Thursday, March 28, 2019

Reading on a Theme: Portals to Fictional Worlds

This post is for anyone who has ever wished they could visit a fictional world. But beware. It might not be all that you hoped.

The Woodlands:
During a World War II bombing raid, Evelyn, Philippa, and Jamie Hapwell crossed from their world into The Woodlands. They lived there for years, but when they returned they came back at the exact same moment they departed. Forced to relive their childhood again, Philippa flourishes, but Evelyn is an absolute mess. The Light Between Worlds explores what happens after the fantastical adventure is over. How can life resume when you are keeping a secret this big? Laura E. Weymouth's book was much more serious and sober than I was expecting. A book about sibling bonds and finding where you belong, The Light Between Worlds was out October 2018. Review copy from Edelweiss. 

The Hinterland:
Alice and her mother have lived a nomadic life and seem to have the worst luck, but when Alice's mother goes missing things start to get really strange. Her mother was stolen away by a character from the Hinterland, the setting of Alice's grandmother's famous collection of fairy tales. Alice, forbidden to read her grandmother's stories, has no idea what she's getting herself into, so she teams up with her classmate, Hinterland fanatic Ellery Finch. Melissa Albert's debut novel is so deliciously creepy. The line between fiction and reality is so thin. I love how The Hazel Wood weaves together the stories of the Hinterland with Alice's past and present. I'm eager to read the sequel. The Hazel Wood was out January 2018.

Summer Marks was brutally murdered five years ago, and everyone thinks her best friends, Mia and Brynn, driven by their obsession with the fantasy novel The Way Into Lovelorn, did it. It's true that the girls believed they had found a way to enter the fictional world. On the anniversary of their friend's death, Mia and Brynn finally start talking again about really happened. Broken Things was so eerie and awesome. The melding of fiction and reality is what really sold me on this book. I loved the excerpts from The Way Into Lovelorn and the fanfic the friends were writing. Lauren Oliver's book is so disturbing, but it also features a really fantastic group of characters. Out October 2018. 

Verdopolis and Gondal:
Living in relative isolation on the Yorkshire moors, the Bronte siblings, Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne, keep themselves entertained by writing stories about fictional lands. However, their fictional worlds are not just stories. The Bronte siblings routinely crossover to direct and experience the stories from within.What makes Lena Coakley's book stand out is that this book is strongly influenced by history. The Brontes did write many stories in their youth, creating the elaborate worlds of Verdopolis, Gondal, and Angria, and they populated them with the characters featured in Worlds of Ink and Shadow. I enjoyed thinking about the books the sisters would eventually write  and how they might be tied to their youthful musings. The plot itself was at times super creepy and at others clever and amusing.

In Ink, Iron, and Glass we have a character journeying from a fictional world into the real world. When Elsa's mother disappears from the pages of their world, Elsa travels to the real world to find her. Gwendolyn Clare's historical fantasy is a steampunk world of mad scientists, alchemists, mechanics, and scriptologists. I really enjoyed the 19th-century Italian setting, the inventions, and the whole concept of scriptology. The jumps from world to world and the way that the text could create something real was so fun and interesting. Beware, this book does have a bit of the "chosen one" trope, as Elsa, as a polymath, is unique and special. The sequel, Mist, Metal, and Ash, was out February 19th, 2019.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Favorite Reads of 2018

It's time for all the year-end, best-book wrap-ups. I love seeing all the favorite-books lists at the end of every year.

I read 153 books this year, which is just three books short of my all-time yearly high, and I'm almost embarrassed by that large number. Did I do anything but read in 2018?

But the real story of the year is that 89 of those 153 book were audiobooks. And no, I definitely did not listen to anything other than books this year. That new podcast? Nope, I haven't heard it. Your favorite new music? Definitely haven't listened to that either. If I can muster up the energy I might do A Few Thoughts post on my growing audiobook consumption as a companion to the post I did a couple of years ago about ebooks

I gave 20 books a 5-star rating this year and truly read (and listened to) some real gems. Also, I settled on presenting only 2018 releases with a special category for my favorite backlist title this time around.

So without further ado, here are the favorites in a variety of categories.

(You can check out mid-year favorites here.)

Favorite Fantasy: Muse of Nightmare by Laini Taylor
The sequel to Strange the Dreamer was everything I wanted and more. I love Laini Taylor's writing. I love this Ancient Near Eastern-inspired world. I love the mind-blowing connection to her earlier series. This book just might be my very favorite read of the year. (series featured here)

Favorite Sequel: A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir
This the second time Sabaa Tahir's fantastic fantasy series has won "Favorite Sequel." This addition to the series was so intense, so emotional, and quite a nail-biter. Sabaa Tahir is not afraid to be brutal to her characters. (series featured here and here)

Favorite Retelling: The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White
2018 was the bicentennial of the publication of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and, for me, it was also the year of Frankenstein-inspired books. (There are two on this list!) It was also the year that solidified my fangirl status for Kiersten White, who also published a smashing finish to the And I Darken Trilogy this year. (featured here)

Favorite Series Finale: The Delphi Revolution by Rysa Walker
The final book in the Delphi Trilogy was so fantastic. The finale is loaded with lots of suspense and a few big surprises. I was amazed at how quickly I sped through this rather lengthy book. (series featured here and here)

Favorite Illustrated Novel: Mary's Monster by Lita Judge
The second Frankenstein-inspired book on this list. I really enjoyed this beautifully illustrated verse novel about the life of Mary Shelley. It is so, so pretty and a compelling way to learn about the life of Mary Shelley. (featured here)

Favorite Book Club Book: Educated by Tara Westover
This book is still the one I had the most conversations about this year. We read it for my book club over the summer, talked about the book for four hours, and probably could have held a second book club and filled four more hours. (featured here)

Favorite Backlist Title: Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
I hadn't read this YA classic until this year, and I found it so delightful in large part because of the nostalgia factor. YA fantasy is just not written this way anymore, and the overall style really brought me back to my younger years. 

Favorite Historical Fiction/ Short Story Collection: Fatal Throne
I think this is the first time I've given 5-stars to a short story collection. This book is a collection of stories by seven authors about the wives of Henry VIII, and I honestly loved them all. Jennifer Donnelly's story about Anne of Cleves still haunts me. (featured here)

Favorite New Book by a Beloved Author: Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
I was utterly captivated by Diane Setterfield's new novel. I love how it weaves together history, mythology, folktale, and science. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Juliet Stevenson, and it was so transporting.

Favorite Novel in Verse/ Diverse book: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
I made an effort to read more books that would fit into the "We Need Diverse Books" category this year, and I loved so many of them. This verse novel, by slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo, is a tour de force. It won the National Book Award in YA fiction, and I highly recommend the audiobook, which is read by the author.

Favorite Nonfiction Book: Fly Girls by P. O'Connell Pearson
Fly Girls is the story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) that flew for the United States during World War II. Patricia O'Connell Pearson's book is an engrossing and comprehensive look at the work of the WASPs. I really enjoy learning about how women contributed during the war years, and I'd strongly recommend this book to anyone who shares that interest. (featured here)

Favorite Series that Ended in 2018: The Illuminae Files by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
For the past couple of years the sequels to Illuminae have been at the very top of my most-anticipated lists. There's something so satisfying about reading a highly-anticipated book that surpasses your every expectation, and that's exactly what these books did. It's hard to say goodbye to this series.(featured here)

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Reading on a Theme: Inspired by the Classics

I do love a good retelling. Today we have five retellings inspired by classic literature. These books are all great. From award-winners like Ibi Zoboi's Pride and Prejudice retelling to the next hilarious offering from the Lady Janies, you really can't go wrong with these books, so read one or five.

The Talented Mr. Ripley:  
I found E. Lockhart's thriller Genuine Fraud to be compulsively readable. The big gimmick of this book is that it's told backwards. The beginning is really the end and you start completely confused, but it didn't take me too long to get into the flow. I think the structure works well for this story. The suspense was definitely heightened. Layers are pealed off the characters little by little, and, for a story about a chameleon, this works great. As with most thrillers, it's probably best if you go in not knowing much at all other than that this is the story of Jule and Imogen--two friends with a lot of secrets. I read this book around Halloween too, which was the perfect time of the year for this twisty tale.

Pride and Prejudice:
Zuri Benitez is the Elizabeth Bennett of Ibi Zoboi's Pride. The central conflict in this story is the result of the gentrification of Zuri's Brooklyn neighborhood. When the wealthy Darcy family moves in across the street, Zuri is determined to hate them all, especially Darius. Darius, for his part, acts, as far as Zuri can tell, as if he's way too good for his new community. I loved this retelling. I really enjoyed what Ibi Zoboi did with the structure of the story. She, like Jane Austen before her, really sheds a light on social concerns. I became very fond of both Zuri and Darius, and I really loved Zuri's whole family. A sense of place is really important in this novel, and Ibi Zoboi does a fantastic job with the setting. Pride was out September 18, 2108. Review copy from Edelweiss.

Moby Dick:
In Patrick Ness's retelling of Moby Dick, the whales get their say. In this upside down world, whales and humans are enemies who hunt one another. Bathsheba is our narrator, and she tells the story of her last hunt for humans. Her pod captures a man, and, through her interactions with him, Bathsheba begins to rethink everything she thought she knew about the war they are waging. I'd called And the Ocean Was Our Sky an allegory. It's a tale about how violence begets violence and enemies become faceless. The book is also beautifully illustrated by Rovina Cai, and that really adds to the reading experience. And the Ocean Was Our Sky was out September 4, 2018.

Much Ado About Nothing:
McKelle George sets her Shakespearean retelling on Long Island during the 1920s. Our main characters are all trying to keep Hey Nonny Nonny, a struggling speakeasy, afloat. This was such a charming tale. I really enjoyed it. The banter between hate-to-love couple Beatrice and Benedick is the best. Beatrice, with her brusque mannerism and feminist ambitions, is so much fun to read about. Benedick, who is soft on the inside, makes my heart melt a little. And it wasn't just them, I loved all of the characters in this book. Hero and Maggie and Prince and John. I really could not do without any of them. The 1920s setting is quite well done. I think I'll go listen to the jazz playlist featured in the Author's Note now. Speak Easy Speak Love was out September 2017. Review copy from Edelweiss.

Jane Eyre:
My Plain Jane is a retelling of Jane Eyre by The Lady Janies who brought us the delightfully funny My Lady Jane. This time our three narrators are Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte, and a ghost hunter named Alexander Blackwood. In the "true" story of Jane Eyre, ghosts are real, Jane can see them, and the sinister doings at Rochester's house just might be linked to actual ghosts.The more I think about this book the more I like it. The creep-factor totally works for a retelling of Jane Eyre. This book would be such a fun October read if you want something that is a little creepy and a bit atmospheric but is mostly just fun. Also, I love how the authors rewrote Rochester's, Charlotte's and Branwell's lives.

All books reviewed by JoLee.

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Story Continues: The Empress, A Reaper at the Gates, and Two Dark Reigns

All three of these penultimate series additions are just divine. I can't wait to read the final book.

Beware of unavoidable spoilers ahead!

The Empress by S.J. Kincaid

Series: The Diabolic (featured here)

Publisher/ Year: Simon & Schuster - October 2017

Genres: Young Adult Science Fiction

Source: My Local Library

Goodreads | Amazon

I was surprised by how much I loved The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid. I'm all in for this new subgenre of sentient AI, so I probably shouldn't have been that surprised. The Diabolic has a really interesting world, great political intrigue, and Nemesis is a pretty excellent narrator.

Nemesis is a Diabolic. She was fabricated to protect Sidonia, and in the first book she impersonates Sidonia in the emperor's court. While there she gets involved with the heir and his plot to ascend to the throne and bring back the outlawed sciences.

In The Empress, Tyrus is now emperor. He and Nemesis are idealistic and optimistic and overly confident that they will be able to turn the empire around. Boy were they wrong.

I was very impressed by The Empress. I really loved The Diabolic and didn't necessarily think that it needed a sequel, so I was a little wary going in because what else was there to do? Well, I was wrong. There was a lot left to do. Tyrus's seat on the throne is shaky. Neither the nobles nor the vicars are inclined to support him because he has defied their religious mandates.

I like how The Empress expands upon the Helleonic religion. I really love a good fantasy religion, and I find this one to be very well done. I can completely buy that an empire in space that rejects science would worship a Living Cosmos. At the same time, that faith is controlling enough to really play into politics. I thought the sacred city was so clever, as was how badly the rejection of science has backfired.

This book has so many reversals. You think that things can't get any worse, and then they do. And then you think that things are getting better just to learn that they aren't! This book has plenty of suspense and action. I also really loved the reference to Hamlet (a book I thought about a lot while reading The Diabolic). Also, I am a big fan of Tyrus and Nemesis as a couple. But, you guys, the end of this book is such a stab to the heart. I wish I could read the final book in the series right now. It's going to be hard to wait a whole year.

A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir

Series: An Ember in the Ashes (featured here and here)

Publisher/ Year: Razorbill - June 2018

Genres: Young Adult Fantasy

Source: My Local Library

Goodreads | Amazon


Sabaa Tahir's An Ember in the Ashes series is currently one of my favorite YA fantasies. A Reaper at the Gates is the third in this four-book series set in a violent Roman/ Middle-Eastern-inspired world.

Laia is from the Scholar class. Her people have been systematically oppressed by the ruling Martials for generations. Laia first became involved with the other two main characters in this series when she volunteered to spy on the Commandant of Blackcliff Military Academy. Since her days as a spy, she has escaped with Elias, freed her brother from prison, and become a reluctant leader of the rebellion.

Elias is the son of the Commandant whom we first met when he was competing to become the next emperor. Elias was never ruthless enough to be emperor, and during the competition he fell in love with Laia, and they escaped together. Elias is now the new Soul Catcher, and he once again finds his duty and his humanity in conflict.

Helene was Elias's best friend at Blackcliff. She finished the competition in second place becoming the next Blood Shrike. Helene is now the only one who stands between the Commandant and her desire to usurp the throne.

Let's just say that it was worth the wait for A Reaper at the Gates. This book was so intense, so emotional, and quite a nail-biter. Sabaa Tahir is not afraid to be brutal to her characters. I really enjoyed the creepy atmosphere of this book. Elias, who is now charged with ushering the dead to their resting place, has such a ghoulish job, and it kind of gives me chills to think about all the things that go wrong with the ghosts.

I can't wait to see how Sabaa Tahir wraps up the series in the next book. I'm sure that it will be epic.

Two Dark Reigns by Kendare Blake

Series: Three Dark Crowns (featured here and here)

Publisher/ Year: HarperTeen - September 2018

Genres: Young Adult Fantasy

Source: My Local Library

Goodreads | Amazon

Kendare Blake's Three Dark Crowns series may win the award for "Most Killer Cliffhangers." I've finished every one of the books in the series so desperate to read the next.

On the island of Fennbirn a set of triplet girls is born to every queen. These children will each possess a powerful magic. When the series begins, Arisinoe is a naturalist who can speak to plants and animals, Katharine is a poisoner who can ingest powerful poisons, and Mirabella is a elementalist who can control wind and flame. Last sister alive becomes queen. Except two of the sisters refuse to play the game, and at the end of the second book Mirabella and Arisinoe escaped to the mainland leaving Katharine queen by default. 

In Two Dark Reigns the past and present collide. On the mainland, Mirabella and Arisinoe are haunted by The Blue Queen, who famously created the mist that protects the island. Back on Fennbirn, the mist has turned toxic, leaving many dead. Katharine attempts to keep her terrified citizens calm while she struggles to keep the dead queens who possess her under control. 

Two Dark Reigns might be my favorite in the series so far. I love how Kendare Blake weaves the mythical Fennbirn of the past with the Fennbirn of the present. I found the story of the Blue Queen to be absolutely fascinating. I love all the dark and creepy elements of this series, and they really shine in this book: the haunting, the mist, Katharine. It's all so deliciously eerie. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Reading on a Theme: Letters from Strangers

This Reading on a Theme could very well be titled "YA Books for fans of You've Got Mail." That's right, all of these books feature correspondence with a mysterious someone.  

Chemistry Deskmate:
P.S. I Like You is about Lily Abbott, a girl who is very bored in Chemistry. Daydreaming in class, she writes a line from her favorite song on her desk. The next day someone has written the next line. Soon Lily and her mysterious pen pal are exchanging notes daily, and Lily starts to develop a crush. P.S. I Like You is definitely a bit on the predictable side, but that does not mean that I didn't enjoy the ride. The ending, especially, was incredibly cute. It wasn't my favorite of Kasie West's books, but I did still find it to be a charming tale. I loved Lily's large family. Her parents are hilarious. Her siblings are great.  

Somebody/ Nobody:
About two years after Jessie's mother died, her father remarries and moves her to Southern California. Jessie now has a new home, a new stepbrother, and an intimidating new private school. Deep breath. Jessie gets an email from Somebody/ Nobody who promises to help guide Jessie through the ins and outs of her new school. Maybe this is a creepy prank? Despite her misgivings Jessie writes back, and soon she and SN are exchanging messages daily. But who is he? I really liked this book. I liked how Julie Buxbaum navigated the newness of everything in Jessie's life. There's a nuance to all the change in Tell Me Things Things that felt so true to life. Plus, the romance is pretty charming.

Simon Spier has a crush on a classmate. There's just two problems. 1) He doesn't know who this classmate is. They correspond anonymously. 2) He's gay and not out yet. Then a classmate finds one of Simon's emails and starts blackmailing him. Things get more and more complicated and soon Simon is lying to everyone. Shouldn't he be able to control when and how he comes out?! And who is Blue?! Awe, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. This book is so beloved, and rightfully so. It's cute, clever, and is choked full of lovable characters. Becky Albertalli writes first love and friendship so well. She also is really good at tapping into high school emotions.

Cemetery Visitors:
Letters to the Lost is the story of two teens who start a correspondence when Juliet leaves a letter on her dead mother's tomb stone, and Declan writes back. At first Juliet is enraged that anyone would disturb her letters but soon she and Declan are bonding and relying on one another through their anonymous missives. This book is achingly good. It is full of heartache and hope and delivered so many emotions. It's a cross between a more serious version of You've Got Mail and The Serpent King by Jeff Zenter--two things I love.  Plus, Brigid Kemmerer is from Maryland, and I always love discovering local authors. 

Bailey is a film geek, and she has a crush on a boy she met on a film forum who goes by the screen name Alex. Her dad happens to live in the same small California town as Alex, and when Bailey moves across the country to live with him, she doesn't tell Alex she's coming. Bailey is determined to scope out Alex in real life incognito, but she can't find him, and she finds herself falling for her obnoxious coworker instead. I adored Alex, Approximately. It is so much fun, super swoony, and a little steamy. The banter between Bailey and Porter is what dreams are made of. My nerdy side loved the museum where they worked. Jenn Bennett's book is the perfect summer read. 

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Reading on a Theme: Sentient Artificial Intelligence

Has anyone else caught the sentient AI bug? I can't get enough of this sci-fi subgenre. I find the AI so intriguing. Do you have a favorite AI? Let me know. I don't want to miss out on a great one.

Eve and her Grandpa are trying to make do in a futuristic world that's an environmentalist's nightmare. Their under the radar existence comes to an end when Eve finds an android in a crashed aircraft. The android is a Lifelike, a sentient class of robotics that's been outlawed for being too dangerous. As far as sentient artificial intelligence is concerned, Lifel1k3 hits it out of the park. I did not expect those twists. Also, is anyone talking about the Anastasia nods? I feel like those Easter eggs were placed just for me. The end of this book is a crazy cliffhanger. I'm sure a lot of people will be eager for the next installment in the series. LifeL1k3 was out May 29, 2018. Review copy from NetGalley.

The Scorpion Rules takes place in the distant future after humanity has nearly decimated itself thanks to global warming and warfare over scarce resources. The savior of mankind, said with a grain of salt, is an amoral Artificial Intelligence named Talis. To maintain peace Talis requires the heir of each nation be raised as hostages in his Preceptures. Talis is enigmatic, scary, weirdly fascinating, and, in many ways, a complete contradiction. Greta Gustafsen Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan-Polar Confederation is a Child of Peace and our narrator. With her country on the brink of war, she's knows survival is unlikely. Family is a central theme in Erin Bow's book. What one would do for family or what one cannot do for family is central. The sequel is equally intriguing. 

Nemesis might not quite count as artificial intelligence because she's made with genetic material, but she is definitely fabricated. The Diabolic is set in space. Recently outlawed, Diabolics were fabricated to protect one person, and one person only. Nemesis's person is Sidonia, and to protect Sidonia she must pretend to be her when Sidonia is summoned to the emperor's court. I thoroughly enjoyed S.J. Kincaid's book. It has the perfect combination of action and philosophical speculation. As Nemesis attempts to masquerade as human the question of her humanity must be confronted. I loved the court intrigue, the alliances, and all the double-crossing. I'm definitely reading the sequel. Review copy from Edelweiss.

Noemi Vidal is a soldier of Genesis, a planet that seceded from Earth's colonies in hopes of protecting their world. Now Genesis is at war with Earth and times are desperate. Abel is a machine, abandoned by his creator in the Genesis system, he spent 30 years alone until Noemi boards his ship. The two then set off on a romp around the galaxy on a mission to save Noemi's planet. I love Claudia Gray's books. Defy the Stars is so entertaining. I can't seem to get enough of the the sentient AI motif, and Gray's book is a great addition to this subgenre. I also love that Ms Gray handled religion and the idea of souls with so much respect and honesty. Also, the audiobook is fabulous. I loved the two narrators. The reader who narrates Abel's portions is particularly great.

The year is 2575 and Kady and Ezra's planet has just been invaded by a rival corporation. Their harrowing escape to the evacuation ships is just the beginning. Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff tell their story through a collection of interviews, secret documents, instant messages, and emails. The way that the story is delivered is definitely part of the appeal. AIDAN, the series sentient AI, is, in my opinion, hands down the best part about this book. AIDAN is in turns terrifying, intriguing, poetic, and fascinating. I read the first book in the Illuminae series just after it came out, and I have not shut up about the series since. Every new installment has been a nail biter. There's so much to love in this series

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Reading on a Theme: Young Women in World War II

Today's World War II Wednesday features books about young women navigating the difficult war years. I'm constantly amazed by how many stories there are to tell about World War II. I love learning from historical fiction, but I love how these books made me feel even more.

Sibling Spies:
Last year I read Katherine Locke's The Girl With the Red Balloon, and it made me really curious about the magical balloonists of the past. Well, I got my wish. In The Spy with the Red Balloon, Ms. Locke takes us back about 45 years to World War II. The story stars siblings Ilse and Wolf. They are recruited to help the war effort with their magic. Wolf is sent overseas as a spy, and Ilse become part of the Manhattan project, working on a way to deliver the atomic bomb with magic. This book combines science and magic and features daring rescues, lots of danger, questionable morals, LGBT romances, and familial love. The Spy with the Red Balloon is out October 2, 2018. Review copy from NetGalley. 

Friends in an Internment Camp:
I absolutely adored Monica Hesse's first World War II novel, Girl in the Blue Coat, and, when I saw she was writing a book about the United States' WWII internment camps, it was a given that I would read it. Haruko is of Japanese descent and Margot is of German descent. The two would never have met if their families hadn't been detained in the same camp in Crystal City, Texas. The War Outside is the story of their secret friendship (and maybe more) across the invisible divide between the Japanese and German detainees. It's a book about the injustices of these events, made more poignant because it is about how those injustices impact individuals. I'm so glad that Monica Hesse's lent her deft and subtle hand and superb research skills to this moment in American history. Out September 25, 2018.   

Norwegian Neighbors:
Almost Autumn follows a group of people living in the same apartment complex in Nazi-occupied Oslo, Norway. Ilse Stern is a Jewish girl in love with the boy across the hall, Hermann Rod. Hermann is working with the Norwegian Underground. Ilse's sister, Sonja, dreams of working as a seamstress at the theater. Ole, their upstairs neighbor, is a taxi driver. Norwegian author, Marianne Kaurin weaves their stories together in a beautiful, harrowing, and sad tapestry. She very poignantly reveals how each life is touched by the others and how coincidences can mean the difference between life and death. The characters in this book are very clearly ordinary people who lived in a tumultuous time. 

Concentration Camp Seamstresses:
The Red Ribbon is about Ella's determination to survive the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Ella fights for a spot in the Upper Tailoring Studio where her sewing skills win her a position making dresses for the officers' wives and female guards. I really enjoyed Lucy Adlington's addition to the World War II genre. The sewing room led to some fascinating and horrifying circumstances for Ella, and it's not something I've seen in other WWII narratives. I also really loved Ella's character. She struggles with what it means to be a friend and a good human in these horrific circumstances and finds that her humanity makes her stronger. The Red Ribbon is out September 11, 2018. Review copy from NetGalley. 

Jewish Undercover Agents:
Sarah is Jewish in Nazi Germany. Through some remarkable and tragic circumstances she joins forces with a undercover agent, and she ends up working for him. Sarah goes undercover at an elite Nazi boarding school to try and gain access to a Nazi scientist's home by befriending his daughter. Orphan Monster Spy is really dark. The girls in the school are horrible with a strict pecking order, and they don't shy away from physical violence. There are layers upon layers of betrayals in this story. Really, you have no idea who you can trust. Matt Killeen's debut novel really kept me on the edge of my seat. I also liked that Sarah was hoping to steal some atomic secrets. 

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