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ARC Review: The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell

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Published: July 18th, 2017 by Simon Pulse | Series: Book #1 in The Last Magician duology | Length: 512 pages | Genre: YA historical fantasy | Source: Edelweiss | Possible Triggers: sexual assault, racism

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Summary from Goodreads:

Stop the Magician.
Steal the book.
Save the future.

In modern day New York, magic is all but extinct. The remaining few who have an affinity for magic—the Mageus—live in the shadows, hiding who they are. Any Mageus who enters Manhattan becomes trapped by the Brink, a dark energy barrier that confines them to the island. Crossing it means losing their power—and often their lives.

Esta is a talented thief, and she’s been raised to steal magical artifacts from the sinister Order that created the Brink. With her innate ability to manipulate time, Esta can pilfer from the past, collecting these artifacts before the Order even realizes she’s there. And all of Esta’s training has been for one final job: traveling back to 1902 to steal an ancient book containing the secrets of the Order—and the Brink—before the Magician can destroy it and doom the Mageus to a hopeless future.

But Old New York is a dangerous world ruled by ruthless gangs and secret societies, a world where the very air crackles with magic. Nothing is as it seems, including the Magician himself. And for Esta to save her future, she may have to betray everyone in the past.

Continue reading

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Review of The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

15993203Rating: 3.5/5

Published: December 14th, 2015 by Viking Books for Young Readers

Length: 482 pages

Genre: YA, historical fiction, fantasy/paranormal

Source: Borrowed from the library

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New York Times bestseller Alison Goodman’s eagerly awaited new project: a Regency adventure starring a stylish and intrepid demon-hunter!

London, April 1812. On the eve of eighteen-year-old Lady Helen Wrexhall’s presentation to the queen, one of her family’s housemaids disappears-and Helen is drawn into the shadows of Regency London. There, she meets Lord Carlston, one of the few who can stop the perpetrators: a cabal of demons infiltrating every level of society. Dare she ask for his help, when his reputation is almost as black as his lingering eyes? And will her intelligence and headstrong curiosity wind up leading them into a death trap?

As a big fan of both historical fiction and fantasy, this book obviously was quite appealing to me. I definitely enjoyed it, but it wasn’t perfect.

I had a bit of a problem with the pacing. There were a few stretches that seemed really slow to me. It takes quite awhile for all of the fantasy elements to start up in the beginning. I didn’t mind this too much as I was really enjoying getting to see the setting and getting a feel for what Helen’s life was like. Even after the fantasy elements do start up, there are sometimes pretty decent-sized stretches where nothing (or very little) related to the Dark Days Club or being a Reclaimer happens. I think this could have been avoided if the book was a bit shorter. At almost 500 pages, I think it definitely could have been cut down even just a tiny bit and the pacing would have been improved.

I will say that Goodman did a great job of helping the reader learn about the Dark Days Club and what it means to be a Reclaimer. Helen is learning about it for the first time too and through her receiving explanations about all of it, the reader gets a good explanation that’s easy to follow and keep track of.

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Another problem I had with this was that there didn’t seem to be a consistent plot other than Helen learning about what she is and what is expected of her. When I started reading the book, I was expecting the plot to focus around this and around Helen’s missing maid, but the maid doesn’t play as much of a role as I thought she would. I don’t want to spoil anything so I won’t say much else other than about halfway (maybe two-thirds of the way) through the book, the plot shifts to a completely different thing that focuses much more on Helen’s role as a Reclaimer. I would have liked for there to be a more consistent plot or for those two plots to blend together better.

I really loved the role that the setting played in all of this though. Setting a fantasy story in Regency London with a high-class main character was a great idea of Goodman’s. She has to sneak around because no one is supposed to know about the Dark Days Club other than the people who are in it, but the rules about propriety and women during this time period added a whole new layer of complexity to it. For example, the person who is pretty much in charge of introducing her to everything and teaching her about things is a man, but in this time period it’s not considered proper for a man and woman to be left alone unless they’re related or married.

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I also thoroughly enjoyed the relationship between Helen and Lord Carlston. He’s accused of having murdered his wife in the past so naturally everyone, including Helen, is really wary around him and no one trusts him. But Helen also feels as though he’s the only person who can really help her understand what’s happening, so she feels really conflicted on whether or not she can (or should) be around him.

All in all, this is a solid story but definitely has some imperfections. If you like historical fiction and/or fantasy, check it out. It’s an entertaining read and I think fans of the genres will enjoy it despite its flaws.

3.5 stars


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Review of Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

11178225Rating: 5/5

Published: February 12th, 2013 by Philomel Books

Length: 346 pages

Source: Borrowed a copy from my library.

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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 to 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.

THIS BOOK. I don’t have a single negative thing to say about it. I was already a big fan of Ruta Sepetys but this is my favorite novel of hers yet.

It was great to see Sepetys write something that isn’t WWII historical fiction. Out of the Easy is set in 1950s New Orleans and I loved how alive the book felt. In the time it took me to read the ~350 pages, I truly felt like I was a part of Josie’s world.

Josie has not had an easy life. She’s essentially lived on her own since she was 12 years old, as her mother is more concerned with making easy money than being a mother to her daughter. Josie’s mom is a prostitute and Josie spends her life trying to make sure she doesn’t end up like her mom. With that said, Josie still helps out Willie, the madam in charge of Josie’s mom and a few other women.

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What I really liked was the complexity of Josie’s feelings regarding her life and her mom. She very clearly resents that she’s been on her own and hasn’t had the chance to live a “normal” life, but she does still care about her mom and is hurt by the fact that her mom doesn’t care about her. I felt like this was such a realistic portrayal of what it’s like to be in this kind of situation. So often kids who don’t have great parents resent that fact, but still hold onto a bit of hope that their parents might come around and step up their game.

This book had me addicted from page one. Even though the main plot doesn’t get going right away, there’s still so much going on with setting up the story and getting to know the main characters that you won’t feel bored at all. Even when there isn’t anything really going on, it feels like there is.

For me, the characters are what really make the story. The plot is interesting enough, but the characters brought the story alive. They’re quite complex and each one is different and unique. There are mobsters that are tough and will go to great lengths to get what they want. There are the prostitutes that work for Willie, each one with their own quirks. Of course there’s also Willie herself, who’s a tough woman who takes no crap from anyone. There’s Patrick, the boy Josie has worked and grown up with. And Jesse, a good friend of Josie’s who is always there for her. Some of the characters are frustrating and annoying and others will capture your heart within minutes.

I honestly don’t think I could love this book anymore than I do. I would 100% recommend this to you if you think it could be at all interesting. Even if you don’t think it would be interesting, I’d still recommend you pick it up because I bet you’d like it more than you think. In fact, I read this pretty much only because Ruta Sepetys wrote it. I thought for sure it would be merely an okay read and that it would trail behind her other books, but I was so wrong. I loved this from the first to the last page.

Star Rating

BY THE WAY: if any of you saw my post yesterday announcing that I’ll be participating in the Make Me Read It Readathon and the poll wasn’t working, it has been fixed! So make sure you head over and vote for what I’m going to read. 🙂


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Review of Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

25614492Rating: 4.5/5

Release Date: February 2, 2016

Length: 400 pages

Source: Borrowed from library

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For readers of Between Shades of Gray and All the Light We Cannot See, bestselling author Ruta Sepetys returns to WWII in this epic novel that shines a light on one of the war’s most devastating—yet unknown—tragedies.

World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.

Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people—adults and children alike—aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.

Told in alternating points of view and perfect for fans of Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See, Erik Larson’s Dead Wake, and Elizabeth Wein’s Printz Honor Book Code Name Verity, this masterful work of historical fiction is inspired by the real-life tragedy that was the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloffthe greatest maritime disaster in history. As she did in Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys unearths a shockingly little-known casualty of a gruesome war, and proves that humanity and love can prevail, even in the darkest of hours.

I am so happy that I finally read this book. About a year and a half ago, I read Sepetys’ Between Shades of Gray and was absolutely captivated by it. So when I heard that she was writing another novel about a little-known piece of WWII history, I knew I had to pick it up.

Salt to the Sea is told with 4 alternating points of view: Joana, Florian, Emilia, and Alfred. Aside from Alfred (you’ll see what I mean by this when you read the book), all 3 are wonderful young characters who are easy to empathize with. All three are running in one way or another from the war, whether running from the Nazis or the Russians. Despite coming from different backgrounds, all have experienced significant losses and have really struggled because of the war. My heart truly broke as I learned what these characters were trying to escape from, both physically and emotionally.

I’ll admit when I started off the novel, I worried that the 4 POVs were too difficult to separate and that I would have a hard time connecting with the characters and understanding the story because of it. However, after reading each POV maybe 2-3 times, this was no longer a problem for me. My only complaint of the POVs after finishing the book would be that I don’t really think Alfred brought anything to the story other than helping Florian and Joana and I’m not sure that he was really needed.

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One of the biggest strengths of Salt to the Sea is that you truly see how much the war affected everyone. I’ve read my fair share of WWII historical fiction, but the vast majority of it focuses on either how the soldiers were affected or how hard it was for those who were taken to the ghettos and/or concentration camps. While these are obviously important stories to tell, it’s just as important (not to mention interesting) to see how others were affected. You get a true sense of their desperation and need to escape the war.

As I already briefly mentioned, Salt to the Sea, like Between Shades of Gray, tells a fictional story of a true event that is not very well known. As is mentioned in Sepetys’ author’s note, the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff is one of the biggest maritime disasters in recorded history – over 9,000 people died – yet most people have never heard of it. I hadn’t until I read this. Sepetys brings awareness to this tragic event and allows those who died to be remembered.

As I expected, the writing was great. It easily gets you to connect with the characters, including side characters. (Again, the exception being Alfred.) Despite going into the book knowing that the Wilhelm Gustloff would sink, I was still getting so nervous and upset as the boat began to sink. I wanted so badly for everyone to get their happy ending despite knowing that it was unlikely.

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My complaints are few and small. A large portion of the book focuses on the characters traveling, trying to make it to the port to secure a spot on one of the ships. This could be quite slow and boring at times. However, I still really enjoyed getting to know the characters, both as individuals and as a group.

My other complaint is half-complaint, half-praise (confusing, I know). The chapters are extremely short. I think the longest one was maybe 4-5 pages but most were around 2-3. For the most part, this was not an issue for me at all. I like short chapters as I don’t have the best attention span and so being able to take breaks without having to stop in the middle of a chapter was greatly appreciated. I also liked the short chapters since it made it easier to read when I only had a few minutes to spare (I hate having to stop in the middle of a chapter and thus usually only read if I know I have plenty of time to do so). The reason why I also feel the short length wasn’t a good thing was because there were times where I really wanted more of that particular moment in that particular POV and only getting 2 pages could be frustrating.

This really was an absolutely fantastic read. If you’re a fan of YA historical fiction, I would recommend this to you. If you like learning about little-known parts of history, I would recommend this to you. Basically, if anything about this book sounds appealing to you, I would recommend it to you. Sepetys wrote a wonderfully touching and heart-breaking story that will surely leave its mark on you.

4.5 stars

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Review of The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

51qfwi-xszl-_sx329_bo1204203200_Rating: 3.5/5

Release Date: April 12th, 2016

Length: 497 pages

Source: borrowed from library

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I must write this account, and when I have finished, I will burn it.

Buried deep within the archives of a convent in medieval France is an untold story of love, loss, and wonder and the two girls at the heart of it all. 
 
Dolssa is an upper-crust city girl with a secret lover and an uncanny gift. Branded a heretic, she’s on the run from the friar who condemned her mother to death by fire, and wants Dolssa executed, too.
 
Botille is a matchmaker and a tavern-keeper, struggling to keep herself and her sisters on the right side of the law in their seaside town of Bajas.
 
When their lives collide by a dark riverside, Botille rescues a dying Dolssa and conceals her in the tavern, where an unlikely friendship blooms. Aided by her sisters and Symo, her surly but loyal neighbor, Botille nurses Dolssa back to health and hides her from her pursuers.  But all of Botille’s tricks, tales, and cleverness can’t protect them forever, and when the full wrath of the Church bears down upon Bajas, Dolssa’s passion and Botille’s good intentions could destroy the entire village. 
 
From the author of the award-winning All the Truth That’s in Me comes a spellbinding thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the final page and make you wonder if miracles really are possible.

So one of the unofficial goals I set for myself recently is to try and read more historical fiction. I absolutely love the genre, but find myself rarely reading it. The Passion of Dolssa sounded like a very interesting story and I’ve never read anything set in this time period (at least that I can remember) so I really wanted to read it. It was a pretty good read, although was not perfect by any means.

The biggest problem I had with it was that it could be really slow at times. The beginning starts off okay: we see Dolssa being named as a heretic and scheduled for execution. But then it gets boring and stays that way for some 200 pages. At this point the story is mostly setting itself up and bringing Dolssa and Botille together and while that obviously is a very important part to this book, it seemed to take a very long time. It wasn’t until the last 200 pages or so that I felt that there was a decent amount of action going on. The rest of the book is pretty mellow and focuses more on the characters which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but not something I personally really enjoy.

Another thing that kind of bothered me was that the different POVs and the writing in general is a bit confusing at first. It took me some time to be able to separate the different POVs. There were some chapters that were “witness testimony” that were especially confusing because it’s essentially the dialogue from one person. And despite the fact that the person is obviously answering questions and taking part in a conversation, we only see what one person is saying. With that said, after awhile I got used to the different POVs and the witness testimony chapters. One last complaint I had about the writing is that I feel like the chapters could have been a bit more uniform in length. There were some chapters that weren’t even a full page and others that went on for 30+ pages. Most chapters seemed to be around 10-15 pages or so but I found myself getting burned out in the longer ones because I wasn’t expecting them or used to them in this particular book.

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But despite all this, there were a lot of things that I did really enjoy. Berry included a lot of Old Provencal words and some Latin words as well. I really loved seeing a bit of these old languages thrown in. There are also glossaries at the back of the book to tell you what these words mean in case you can’t figure it out. You’ll probably be able to figure out the meaning of a decent amount of these words if you know any Spanish or French – I had taken French in high school and my freshman year of college and was able to understand a fair amount. One small complaint is that I wish there was some way we could be notified of the glossaries because I didn’t realize they were there at first and I was a bit confused by some sentences because they contained words whose meanings I didn’t know.

To me, the characters are what make the story. They are incredibly interesting and dynamic. The people of Bajas, including Botille and her sisters, were really fun to read about. I really loved the kind of magical elements between Botille and her sisters – they could sometimes read each other’s minds and Botille’s sister, Sazia, could predict people’s futures. I found them really interesting. But even outside of Botille’s family, the villagers were all quite distinct characters and, like I said, fun to read about. I liked seeing not only their characters, but their setting. Because they’re living in Europe in the 1200s, religion plays a huge role in their lives and even the characters who don’t consider themselves religious are still impacted by the overall society’s reliance on Christianity. As I mentioned before, I hadn’t read anything in this time period before and so that was a lot of fun for me.

Lastly, I really appreciated that the ending was realistic. I don’t want to give too much away, but the ending is not one of those where everyone lives happily ever after and you’re left thinking “there’s no way this story would end like this.”

This book is pretty dense and can be slow and/or a bit confusing at first, but I’m still glad I read this. However, if you’re looking for a quick or really action-packed book, look somewhere else. I think in order to enjoy this book you need to be a pretty big fan of historical fiction, otherwise you might get bored too quickly.

3.5 stars

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ARC Review: the Requiem Red by Brynn Chapman

 

26176476Rating: 2.5/5

Release Date: April 5, 2016

Length: 300 pages

Source: eARC from the publisher, Month9Books

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Summary:

Life for Patient 29 is full of medicated day dreams of a life outside the walls of Soothing Hills Asylum. But fantasies are not all that consume her. A monster roams the halls of the sanitarium she reluctantly calls home and three girls have been found dead. The dead girls share one common thread . . . each was 29’s cell mate. As the investigation gets under way, she retreats into her mind, listening to the voices that call to her. She is endowed with the cursed gift of perception. Through it, she hears messages carried upon the notes of music, discerns words hidden among the strokes of paintings, and minds pleadings for help from the corn field outside. 
 
Could the key to the murders lie within 29’s broken mind? Mason, an orderly, does not see 29 as a lunatic and as his belief in her grows so does her self-confidence. The possibility of one day leaving the asylum seems less and less like a fantasy. But the monster has other plans for her. Leaving will not be so easy, at least not while she is alive.
This is probably going to be pretty lengthy, so I’ll just say I’m sorry now hahaha
First of all, I will say that I think the summary being used for the book is not a very accurate summary of what actually happens in the book. The whole mystery surrounding the girls’ death and the “monster” in the asylum takes a back seat for the most of the novel and what the monster is and what it wants doesn’t get answered until the very end. Meanwhile, we never get an answer as to why those girls were targeted, nor does it seem to be very important.
In my own words, this book follows two girls, Jane and Jules. Jane is a patient in an asylum and has lived there her whole life. Jules is the daughter of the head doctor at the asylum. You get the sense right from the beginning of the book that these two girls are somehow linked. I personally think the plot centers much more around trying to figure out how they’re linked than it does around the monster. (And to be honest, I figured out how they were linked pretty early on in the story.)
I did have problems with this book. For one, it annoyed me that the summary of the book didn’t really match up with the actual story. Because of this I felt like the book was completely missing a plot for almost the first half. I think if I had gone in with the expectation that the story centers around Jane and Jules and their connection to each other, I would have found the first part of the story more in line with that plot. But because I was expecting this monster and mystery, I was confused as to what was going on. However, once I figured out what the actual plot was, I found it interesting and entertaining. But I still don’t feel as though the plot should be a puzzle to solve.
A smaller, but still frustrating, issue I had was that throughout the book, the wards of the asylum are described as having different purposes. For example, in the beginning wards 3, 4, and 5 are mentioned as being the children’s wards. Then later on, ward 3 is described as a tuberculosis ward, 4 is noted as the women’s ward, and 5 as the men’s ward. Later still, ward 3 is then mentioned as the “convalescent” ward which kind of lines up with it being a TB ward, but not really. This was immensely confusing to me. The wards seemed to constantly be changing. I hope that this was fixed before the final copies were printed, but I couldn’t write this review without mentioning it just in case this issue remains in the final copies. It didn’t really interfere with my understanding or enjoyment of the book since knowing what the wards were for didn’t really have any impact on the story. It was just annoying.
I didn’t really have any other issues with this book. The only other thing is maybe that the romance between Jane and Mason seemed sudden. I liked their relationship more and more as the story progressed, but in the beginning it definitely made me feel a bit weird. It seemed as though they went strictly from an orderly-patient relationship to Mason sneaking into her room at night to be with her. I felt like there could have been a bit more development in the beginning stages. But like I said, I liked their relationship more and more as the story went on and by the end I was really rooting for them to be able to be together.
I really liked both Jane and Jules. Given that this is set in a time when women were not viewed as equals, I thoroughly appreciated how independent they both were and how they didn’t let anyone stand in their way. This could be seen in both characters, but I think I noticed it more with Jules. Her father is incredibly controlling of her and she is engaged, so she basically has two men telling her what to do all the time (although her fiance is actually really sweet and I liked him quite a bit). However, she doesn’t let either one of them control her. She sneaks around and does what she wants, despite knowing that if she were to get caught, she could be in a lot of trouble.
There was definitely a lot of creepy stuff going in the book. Besides the paranormal elements, I found the “treatment” (more like torture) of the asylum patients to be especially creepy and upsetting. I don’t doubt that these were tactics used by doctors in asylums at this time. They really were quite disturbing and upsetting at times. Seeing Jane suffer for literally no reason made me wish there was something I could do to help her. More than once I found myself super angry at Dr. Frost for how he treated her. It was eased slightly by how empathetic and caring Dr. Grayjoy was towards Jane and all the other patients.
Another thing that I really liked was actually the author’s notes that were included at the end of the story. Brynn Chapman includes a note about asylums during the 1800s (mentioning that the “treatments” used in the book were all really used), historical forms of address, ablation (lobotomy), and two more that I won’t mention because they’re spoilers! These helped to clear up a few questions I had and also just provided some additional information that I found interesting and heartbreaking.
Overall, I liked this book just fine. Because of the confusion towards the beginning, I did find it hard to get into. However, once I realized that there was a different plot going on and focused more on that, I found it much more enjoyable and towards the end I felt like I couldn’t read the book fast enough and found it very difficult to put down. This has actually made it very hard for me to rate it! Oh and the book ends on a HUGE cliffhanger which has me dying a little bit (okay, a lot) inside.
If you’re a fan of historical fiction, asylum stories, or just generally gritty/creepy stories, you might want to check this out when it’s released in a few days. Just know that the summary given is not really what is focused on for much of the book and with that in mind, I think you’ll find it even more enjoyable than I did.
Final note: I have no idea why the post is formatted weirdly. I put plenty of space between paragraphs, but WordPress does not seem to care. Sorry guys!
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Weekly Recommendation #3

It’s Sunday evening which means it’s time for my weekly recommendation! This week I’m recommending…

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys!

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Buy it on Amazon.

I bought and read this about a year ago after hearing a lot of wonderful praise for it. I was not at all disappointed.

This story is about Lina, a Lithuanian teenager whose family is taken by Soviet officers. Her, her mom, and her brother are separated from her father and sent to a Soviet work camp which, of course, presents a lot of challenges and they have to fight to survive. Throughout everything, she’s really desperate to reconnect with her dad and she passes on drawings with hints about where she is hoping that they’ll reach her dad.

I’ve always found historical fiction really interesting and I’ve always liked books about WWII the best. However, until I read this, I had never read about any of the atrocities committed by the Soviets – everything I had read had been about the horrors the Germans brought to so many. So I was really interested to learn about this side of the war that I really had never heard about.

This book brings you on such an emotional journey. It had me hooked from beginning to end. I really can’t praise this book enough! You should definitely check this out if you like YA historical fiction.

Ruta Sepetys recently published another book, Salt to the Sea, which I’m dying to read and I’ve heard is every bit as captivating as Between Shades of Gray.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention: Between Shades of Gray is getting a movie adaptation called Ashes in the Snow which is set to release at some point this year.