An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

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As a reread, this book is just as amazing the second time around!

An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir, opens as Laia witnesses the killings of her grandparents and the capture of her brother Darin as soldiers attack their home, accusing Darin of being a part of the Resistance. Laia’s story alternates with Elias, a soldier training most of his life to serve the Empire. Laia finds the Resistance to try and save Darin while Elias debates desertion or staying and serving the Empire. Laia is bought as the Commandant’s new slave girl, a Resistance idea to find out information about Darin so they can plan how to help him. Laia discovers life as a slave is horrible and she’s having a very difficult time getting information for the Resistance. Four Masks are sent into nightmarish trials, Elias and Helene are two of the soldiers, and they must overcome their worst fears to survive as their love, loyalty and hearts are strained through horrific events. Throughout the story, Elias and Laia unexpectedly run into each other and they unwillingly get to know each other. Each chapter ends with intensity, so it’s a difficult book to put down. Dynamic, complex characters to love and hate make this story suspenseful, exciting and interesting, 5 stars!

Be Mindful & Stress Less by Gina Biegel

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Completely helpful!
Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Random House for the opportunity to read and review Be Mindful & Stress Less by Gina M. Bigel!
The fifty ways to deal with your crazy life are broken down into parts. Pay attention with senses is part one, part two is self-care, part three is always consider other responses, and each of these focuses on how to handle stress, learning to be mindful of our surroundings and stress triggers and self-care. My favorite stress relief is to “just breathe”! So relaxing. Taking mindful pauses to keep stress in check and to become more aware of our responses to problems is a wonderful tip also. The 5 G’s, gratitude exercises to help express and experience gratitude, and encouragement to treat yourself with kindness are resourceful and beneficial advice sections. Wonderful book for dealing with life’s inevitable stresses, 5 stars!

Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith

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A down to Earth story with lovable characters!
Thanks to NetGalley and Delacorte Press for the opportunity to read and review Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith!
Alice has lived with her cousin Leo since she was nine, after her parents died. She’s content and treated well. Leo, Alice and Teddy are three best friends and Alice has had a long-standing crush on Teddy for years. Alice purchases a lottery ticket for Teddy’s birthday and it ends up being a winner! Life gets more complicated after that, plus the fact that the three friends are trying to make plans for the future. They’re each trying to decide what college to attend or whether college is an option at all. Teddy finds out the hard way how people use you after they discover you’re rich, including his own father. Windfall shows a lot of character growth and insights that we can all use and learn from. I love the little added extra about the lottery overseer and how winners and their actions have been observed over time. Windfall is a romance above all and even though it’s about winning the lottery, it’s a down to Earth story, 5 stars for the lovable characters!

Letting Go of Gravity by Meg Leder

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Touching realistic fiction!
Thanks to NetGalley and Simon Pulse for the opportunity to read and review Letting Go of Gravity by Meg Leder! Parker and Charlie are twins. One of them is giving the Valedictorian speech at high school graduation and the other watches from the audience, not graduating because of being held back a year in school, due to a second bout with leukemia. Parker has her future set out for her and Charlie is tired of dealing with leukemia. At the same time, Charlie seems much more confident about what he’s feeling and what he wants compared to Parker, who has uncertainties about everything. Parker crosses paths with Finn, a friend from elementary school that she lost track of. Charlie acts like he has a death wish and it’s upsetting his family and friends so much that his parents send him to a cancer therapy support group. Parker thinks that Charlie hates her and she seems to keep making the same mistakes, over and over, that make him angry. Through the turmoil of figuring out their lives and futures, Parker and Charlie surprise each other with how similar they are but different at the same time. A touching realistic fiction story with Ruby and Finn, dynamic side characters that bring an extra level of maturity to the plot and story line. 5 stars!

Price of Duty by Todd Strasser

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Heartbreaking, tear-jerking, gut-wrenching reality!
Thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for the opportunity to read and review Price of Duty by Todd Strasser. As the story opens, we’re thrown right into a Humvee being hit by an IED! The main character, Jake, narrates in first person point of view, alternating between the present and his active duty as a U.S. soldier. His life has completely changed since he enlisted in the military and he’s holding onto anger from seeing his comrades harmed and killed, feeling deceived by the recruiter, struggling with his own injuries and having to face being reactivated. He’s hiding his anger from everyone and he’s afraid he’ll let it slip and his family and hometown will think less of him. Price of Duty shows us what war is really about in heartbreaking, tear jerking, gut wrenching reality, 5 stars for a book that I’m definitely buying for the library collection!

The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Berube

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Frightening and riveting!
Thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire for the opportunity to read and review The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Berube!
Marianne is staying with her Aunt Jen until her mother straightens some things out. Marianne’s parents are split up, but her parents leave her in the dark. Marianne breaks and throws chalk during her math class when the teacher asks her to solve an equation at the board but she has no recollection of that. Her parents keep reassuring her that their separation is not her fault. This makes me wonder about the situation they were in and what is going on with Marianne. While living at Aunt Jen’s, Marianne makes a new friend, a helpful friend in Rhiannon, who prefers to be called Ron. Together they try to get to the bottom of Marianne’s struggles. During an experiment with Marianne, something frightens Ron terribly and she runs away and leaves Marianne on the beach where Marianne had an episode and Ron recorded the audio part of it. Frightening and riveting! I didn’t want to put the book down. This creepy, supernatural read gave me chills and food for thought- we all have to fight our own personal demons. 5 stars!

Scream All Night by Derek Milman

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Scream All Night by Derek Milman tells the story of emancipated seventeen-year-old Dario, who goes back home for his elderly father’s live funeral. Within the first chapter, Dario gets an odd call from his brother Oren, receives an invitation from an old friend Hayley, attends a party/live funeral for his father, talks to his father then watches an accidental explosion, taking his father with it- all with a sad, dry, dysfunctional humor! Characters are introduced and the will is read, leaving Dario in charge of his father’s movie studio. Moldavia Studios encompasses the mansion and the property surrounding it and that’s where the movie making has taken place. The story gets stuck on how badly the studios have been losing money and Oren’s failures and psychedelic tendencies, which slow down the book tremendously and there’s really no horror involved, even though the synopsis stated otherwise. 3 stars for the imaginative setting!

Echoes by Alice Reeds

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Twists and a cliffhanger ending = riveting mystery!
Thanks to NetGalley and Entangled for the opportunity to read and review Echoes by Alice Reeds.
The book opens on a flight that goes terribly wrong, landing two known survivors on an island. The story then alternates from the island setting to previous events before the crash. Fiona is on a scholarship while attending a private school, she excels in kickboxing and has dyed blue hair. Miles is a rich kid, attends the same school as Fiona and has a wonderful academic record. The two of them have been invited to Berlin for an internship at Briola Pharmaceutical. When they arrive at the supposed address of the Briola Pharmaceutical Factory, all they find is a rundown warehouse. They also discover, through researching, that there’s no record of who reserved their hotel room or the Briola company website and the company itself doesn’t exist, even though it was all online twenty-four hours ago. Now Miles and Fiona are on their own. I assumed that the island segments happened after the Berlin parts of the story, but that’s supposedly not the case. While on the island, Fiona and Miles find evidence of the two of them being in Berlin, but neither one of them has any memories of it. All they know, in both settings, is that someone means to cause them harm and completely isolate the two of them from everyone and everything else. The danger grows and the mystery continues to the very end of the book, where another twist appears, which isn’t the end of Miles’ and Fiona’s ordeal. The mystery kept me riveted, 5 stars!

And I Darken by Kiersten White

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Tumultuous historical fiction!
And I Darken by Kiersten White, book one of the Conqueror’s Saga tells the story of Lada (a female version of Vlad the Impaler) and her brother Radu, as well as Mehmed, who will become a great Conqueror. Lada was born with an intense and strong personality; this is the only way to catch the attention of her father. The only time she’s kind or shows weakness is in helping her younger brother. Their father wakes them before dawn and takes them to a different ruler’s home for protection, but he ends up leaving his children to receive an education. This education consists of cruelty along with their lessons. As Lada and her brother Radu grow, they each find their particular talents and tend to go their separate ways. Lada is outspoken, boisterous and skillful in fighting and Radu is quiet and personable and enjoys religion. I learned more about Islam because of this book and my appreciation of Islamic beliefs grew. The author used the historical information that she could find on two great leaders- Vlad the Impaler and Mehmed the Conqueror- to create this interesting series of intrigue, action and danger. I love when authors explain their process of creating their books and share the research they discovered. Kiersten White lists historical books of information on her subjects and also tells readers why she chose to make Vlad the Impaler a female character- Lada. Lada adds depth, drama, love, loyalty and intensity to the story. And I Darken is the beginning of the turmoil of The Conqueror’s Saga, 4 stars!

Never Fade by Alexandra Bracken

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Never Fade by Alexandra Bracken opens with Ruby and how she is now with the Children’s League, helping them free someone from prison. That someone turns out to be Liam, or so Ruby thinks. It’s actually Liam’s brother, Cole. The League sends Ruby on a mission to find a flash drive containing information that can help with IAAN, the “disease” that caused death to many children and gave abilities to the survivors. Cole accidentally gave the flash drive to Liam and so they began the hunt for him. When Ruby finds Liam, she’s not alone. She’s with Jude, Vida and Chubs. They make an interesting group with their strong mix of personalities and their banter. When they do find Liam, he’s dying from pneumonia. Liam also feels a strong connection to Ruby that he can’t understand, since she wiped herself from his memories the last time she was with him, thinking that would keep Liam safe. With one surprise after another, this book doesn’t disappoint! Action, adventure, twists, dark humor and a thick plot make this a riveting dystopian! 5 stars!