The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

A story of great strength, determination, and unbelievable perseverance!

Elsinore has grown up feeling ugly, unloved, and like she’s a burden to her family. They tell her she’s too tall, not pretty, and sickly. It’s the 1920’s and women tend to be married and have children by the time they’re twenty years old and Elsinore is twenty-five. She wants a change and wants to enjoy life so she cuts her waist-length hair to her chin and buys red silk and creates a flapper dress. She sneaks out one night to go to the speakeasy in town but they won’t let her in and tell her to go home when they realize it’s her. She walks down the street and meets an eighteen-year-old Italian man who wants to have fun. They both admit they’re lonely and see each other a few times to have sex. Rafe calls Elsinore “Els”; she likes the nickname and feels wanted when she’s with him. She ends up with morning sickness and her parents disown her and her father takes her and one packed suitcase to Rafe’s family farm. Elsinore’s father tells Rafe’s parents what’s going on and leaves her there, stating that their family is done with her. Rafe’s parents have saved for him to go to college for a better life but he seems happy to stay on the farm with Els and says that he doesn’t want to go to college anyway. Elsa and Rafe have a girl then a boy. His parents are grateful for Elsa because she’s strong, brave, a hard worker, and a good wife and mother. When the Great Depression hits, Rafe leaves his family behind because he can’t stand staying on the farm anymore. His parents help Elsa raise their grandchildren and they all take care of the farm together. When the land turns into a dust bowl, life gets even worse! The people and animals struggle to survive the heat, the powerful winds, and the extreme dust everywhere. Ant, the youngest grandchild, becomes deathly sick with dust pneumonia and that’s when they decide it’s time to leave the Great Plains behind. When Elsa leaves for California with her children, she’s terrified but sees no other solution. They make it to California but find discrimination and harsh prejudice, horrible working and living conditions, and struggle to survive because of little and sometimes no income. The three do discover strength and loyalty and what they are truly capable of. A story of great strength, determination, and unbelievable perseverance, 5 stars!

Lovely War by Julie Berry

Two beautiful people open the story with their jaw-dropping presence. They turn out to be the god of war, Ares, and the goddess of love, Aphrodite. Aphrodite describes how she feels no passion or love and this is because she’s bound to give love to others but never be able to feel it in return, for all of eternity. She tells the story of James and Hazel; when they first met one week before he was heading into the Great War. Their story continues through letters after he’s sent to war, at least during his training. Hazel becomes a relief volunteer and heads to France. Aubrey, a pianist from Harlem, is in France with his unit heading to the war. Colette has lost her loved ones during the German attack on Belgium. The story floats around the interactions and experiences of these four, Hazel, James, Aubrey, and Colette. World War I history has been unclear to me but this book helped my understanding of this horrible war known as the Great War. I adore the four main characters and my heart soared and broke right alongside theirs. Based on historical facts and people, Lovely War tells a powerful tale, 5 stars!

House of Dragons by Jessica Cluess

I was so excited about House of Dragons by Jessica Cluess. I enjoyed her debut series and was anxious to read her new book!
First of all, cover love! The intriguing synopsis made me want to dive right into the story. Five contestants are called to compete for the throne. Emilia has concealed her deadly, powerful magic her entire life. Lucian destroys the family sword, vowing to never use the weapon again. He’s had enough of killing. Vespir is a dragon caretaker who is chosen over the Lord’s daughter, Antonia. Vespir and Antonia also happen to love each other. Ajax is a fifteen year old younger brother in a house full of almost thirty sons. He is chosen over his father’s two true heirs. Hyperia is the eldest royal daughter and when her younger sister is chosen, Hyperia promptly slits her sister’s throat. The author handles the five characters well by transitioning in the same order to help the reader get familiar with each of them. Each of the five are sent to an island to hunt a basilisk. The hunt is the first task of four (the tasks are The Hunt, The Game, The Race and The Truth) the chosen will need to compete in. The five chosen are not expected and, in the past, the first born heirs were always chosen and groomed for the competition. These contenders are all ill-prepared except for one, Hyperia, because she’s the first born heir of her family. I enjoyed the touch of humor throughout the intensity of the story, as well as the character development. The story starts off simply and grows into a complex tale of a huge array of characters with diverse personalities and strengths. 5 stars for this fantasy adventure!

Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett

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Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett addresses several difficult topics with boldness and knowledge.  Simone was born HIV positive and she lives with her loving, adoptive parents, Dave and Paul, who she calls Dad and Pops. Simone recently moved to the school she’s now attending, after being tormented and shunned at her previous school when her best friend told everyone that Simone has HIV.  She wants a fresh start and her junior year is going well, at first.  She’s been assigned as the high school musical director for the school production of “Rent” because Broadway is one of her passions and her teacher believes she has what it takes to follow her dreams and make a career out of directing.  Simone meets this amazing guy, Miles, and they form a healthy relationship and she shares her secret with him.  Miles handles it kindly and with empathy and treats Simone the same as before.  Someone starts leaving threatening notes for Simone, warning her to break up with Miles or else.  Everything escalates after that and blow up.  Simone finds out who her true friends are and she has to decide whether to hold her head up high and persevere or run away from the same problem all over again.

 Be aware that Full Disclosure freely talks about sexual issues and questions, so not for sexually squeamish readers.
Impressive and bold young adult debut!

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

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Based on the true events of Florida’s infamous reform school!
Thanks to NetGalley and Doubleday for the opportunity to read and review The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead!
Historical fiction novel based on the real reform school that horribly mistreated the boys who resided there. Traumatized young men were left to deal with the abuse on their own. The story focuses on Elwood and we learn about other boys’ stories through his eyes as he witnesses them. The prevalent racism harbored hatred to the point of punishing innocent people and sending them to this terrible reform school where even harsher acts of racism occurred. The abuse went on for decades and through several headmasters. After reading this novel, I felt compelled to research the truth behind the story and was sickened at the amount of violence and abuse that young boys had to live through. Some didn’t survive. I truly don’t understand how the adults took part in or witnessed and kept quiet about any of the abuse. What’s their excuse? The Nickel Boys is tremendously powerful, enlightening and tragic, 4 stars!

Body Swap by Sylvia McNicoll

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Fun with a twist!
Thanks to NetGalley and Dundurn Press for the opportunity to read and review Body Swap by Sylvia McNicoll!
Hallie, a teenager, focuses on her cell phone so much that she walks in front of a car and gets hit. An elderly woman, Susan, was driving the car and she blames the car’s mechanical problems for the accident. Both of them are badly injured and unconscious and while they’re in that state, they involuntarily switch places. This story reminds me of Freaky Friday except the switchers aren’t family members and ageism is prevalent. Hallie is a spunky, self-absorbed teenage girl that’s slightly boy crazy and Susan is an octogenarian that’s feeling smothered by her son and daughter-in-law. They want to take away her independence, her car and her condo and make her move into a retirement home. When Hallie and Susan trade places, they gradually grow to truly care for each other and gain a great deal of compassion. I like how the author brought ageism to light and built empathy towards both young and old. Endearing realistic fiction with a twist, 4 stars!

The Unbinding of Mary Reade by Miriam McNamara

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Thanks to Edelweiss and Sky Pony Press for the opportunity to read and review The Unbinding of Mary Reade! Mary hides on the ship when Pirates attack and she unexpectedly kills the Captain and swears allegiance to the Pirate Captain. The next chapter goes back in time and tells us how Mary disguised herself, as her dead brother Mark, to please her mother and to receive money from her grandmother. Her mother calls her a bastard girl and tells her that she’s unacceptable in society or in the family. From then on Mary stays disguised as a boy everywhere except when she’s alone with her mother, who’s drunk most of the time. The story moves back and forth between the past and the present and eventually they catch up to each other, with Mary trying to figure out and understand her place in the world. Action and a delicate, tactful handling of Mary’s relationships and how she finally decides what suits her true-self best. A 4 star adventure!

 

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!

Seventh Born by Monica Sanz

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Fantasy with a touch of romance!
Thanks to NetGalley and Entangled Teen for the opportunity to read and review Seventh Born by Monica Sanz!
Seraphina lives in a society that’s prejudice against her because she’s a seventh born. She’s not allowed to have any friends, not even other seventh borns, and she’s forced to grovel to authority. Sera does have one forbidden friend that’s helpful and kind to her, Mary. As Mary and Sera are gathering books to give themselves a chance to talk to each other, a teen boy “accidentally” knocks books down on top of them. Sera is so angry that she causes his clothes to smolder without using a wand, so he can’t prove her fault without calling her powerful and without getting himself in trouble for dropping the books. A professor gets her out of the situation and later invites her to see him privately. Sera cautiously visits Professor Barrington and is relieved and surprised when he offers her a referral letter if she’ll help him investigate murders and be his investigative assistant. A new world is opened up to Sera as she learns spells, the history and reality of the seventh born persecution and her own abilities. A fantasy with a touch of romance and some twists, 5 stars!

The Iron Flower by Laurie Forest

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A solid 5 stars for the wonderful, complex world of the Black Witch!
Thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin Teen for the opportunity to read and review The Iron Flower by Laurie Forest!
The story picks up right where The Black Witch left off. The Resistance works together trying to figure out how to keep their ‘unsavory’ friends safe. The prose flows smoothly and focuses on characters’ situations. An all-encompassing fantasy with a mystery that is foreshadowed throughout the series but left hidden from its readers, keeps the suspense going. Elloren and her friends are fighting for freedoms that are being taken away piece by piece. Fierce loyalty and friendship bond many different types of people and bring them together to fight against genocide and towards freedom. The Iron Flower adds much to this fantasy series and I’m looking forward to reading the next installment already; a solid 5 stars for the wonderful, complex world of the Black Witch!