Between Shades of Gray


Between Shades of Gray (audiobook)

by Ruta Sepetys


Between Shades of Gray is a companion novel to Salt to the Sea.  This novel is from the point of view of Lina from Lithuania.  She is Joana’s cousin.  In flashbacks, we learn about their close relationship; nearly sisters.  Lina is rounded up with her mother and brother (her father being previously taken) and put into a train car, shipped off by the Russians.  She isn’t sure why (we later find out how she was discovered).  Along the way, she meets several others, including a young man named Andrius.  They are sent to Siberia, and suffer through many years in a labor camp.  Her mother Elena befriends one of the soldiers, and Lina learns she isn’t the only one who is suffering through this war.

What I liked about this book was that we learn another perspective of World War II that we might not hear about.  I didn’t know about people being sent to Siberia, but this showed me more about how horrible it was.  Most people only think of the concentration camps, but this taught me how badly they suffered in other camps.  It was also painful not to know where your loved ones were.  And oh man- to have bodies strewn about, and the wild animals coming at them.

What I didn’t like about this book was that I loved Salt to the Sea, and this one just wasn’t as good.  It was good, but if I’d read it first, I would have liked it a lot more.  I think one thing I wanted was for the romantic connection to be stronger like it was with Joana.  Still a good read, though!

Book 43 of 40

(Book 9 of 2018)


Salt to the Sea


Salt to the Sea (ebook)

by Ruta Sepetys


Salt to the Sea… so good!  I had heard of this book, seen the cover, etc., and finally decided to read it when I saw it was on my husband’s high school’s potential summer reading list.  (To clarify… he’s a teacher, not a high school student.)  Although I’m madly trying to read all of the notable 2017 books before the ALA awards, I paused to read this one, and I’m so glad I did.

This book is told from four different points of view.  Joana is a Lithuanian nurse, Emilia is a 15 year old Polish girl, Florian is a 19ish year old who restores art, and Alfred is a German sailor.  Joana and Emilia are refugees escaping the Russians, and Florian has stolen an important piece of art in retaliation against his boss, who is just under Hitler himself.  Alfred appears to be a dim-witted, brainwashed Nazi who writes mental letters to the girl next door about how important he is, although we see through the story, he is the lowest on the totem pole.  They travel together to board a boat of refugees escaping the war, along with the shoe poet, a large woman, and an orphan named Klaus.  This is a snapshot of one group of people- refugees of world war II, displaced due to the Nazis and Soviets closing in on their homes.

What I liked about this book was… everything.  I really enjoyed this book.  I’ve read that Sepetys writes about the untold stories, the ones we’ve never heard of.  The fictional refugees in the story board a doomed boat, and it was a boat that really did sink with nearly 10,000 refugees aboard in 1945.  I really liked the chemistry between Joana and Florian, and I could see it becoming a movie someday.  This book reminded me of The Book Thief, and anyone who’s asked me for a recommendation should know my feelings on that book.

What I didn’t like about this book was that I felt like the ending was abrupt.  There was a chapter of many years later, but I wanted another book to tell me about the many years after.  I also felt the beginning could be confusing for someone who didn’t have the patience to learn the characters right away.

Book 33 of 40

The War I Finally Won


The War I Finally Won (audiobook)

by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley


Before you read The War I Finally Won, let me tell you, listening to the audiobook is a totally different experience than reading it as a hardcover or ebook.  The audiobook is read by Jayne Entwistle, and she has a strong accent and changes to a German accent when reading the parts of Ruth, the German girl, or Ruth’s parents.  I read the first book, The War That Saved My Life, when it first came out last year, and I didn’t think it was possible to enjoy the second book more than the first (because you know, the first book is always better).  I’m not sure if the book itself was better, or just the audiobook experience.

This book is Ada’s life after her mother gives her up.  It opens with Ada getting her foot surgery to correct her clubfoot.  Soon, we learn Ada and Jamie’s mother has passed away in a bombing (which ISN’T sad since their mother was such a horrible woman).  Ada is in panic mode and shuts down when she thinks she and Jamie will end up in an orphanage, which is ridiculous, because obviously, Susan loves them and takes them into her care.  They live in a cottage (aka small mansion) with Lady Thornton, and eventually Ruth, a German Jew who is being tutored by Susan.  Throughout the story, Ada needs constant reminders that she is loved and wanted by Susan, that she’s not a burden, and that she’s smart.  Ada goes through a lot of positive changes, some spurred by some tough situations, and comes out on top by the end of the war.

What I liked about this book was the change in Ada’s character.  She had so many moments of self-doubt, but the reader is constantly cheering her on and hoping for the best outcome.  Ada started the series a shattered, abused little girl, and finished book 2 (I’m not sure if there’s to be another) a stronger, more secure young woman.  She became the protector of others, and finally learned to call Susan Mum.

What I didn’t like about this book was perhaps intentional by the author, and only bugged me.  It was obvious to me (from the beginning of the series) that Susan is a lesbian.  Parents rejected her and her relationship with her partner.  Perhaps it wasn’t something that was talked about back then, perhaps the author meant for that to go over the heads of child readers, or perhaps I’m just delusional.  It was clear that their love was deep, and more than just friends.  I think it might confuse young readers who don’t understand why Susan and Becky faced so much opposition with their friendship.  Why did Becky’s dad refuse to acknowledge it?  I, as an adult, understood, but I know it went over the heads of my students.

Book 16 of 40

Wolf Hollow


Wolf Hollow (audiobook)

by Lauren Wolk

AR Level 4.9, 9 points


Wolf Hollow is the second book I’ve read by Lauren Wolk, although I liked Beyond the Bright Sea better.  Both are mysteries, but this one seemed to have less action.  It follows Annabelle, an almost 12 year old girl living in a farming town during World War II.  Annabelle is an average girl, but is full of grit and compassion, except for when it comes to Betty, the school bully.  Betty is relentless when it comes to bullying Annabelle and her brothers, but when she throws a rock that hits Annabelle’s friend in the eye (causing her to lose the eye), Annabelle can’t stay quiet, especially when Betty blames a local strange homeless man, Toby.  Toby soon has to go into hiding when Betty goes missing, but Annabelle is certain Toby didn’t take Betty.  She has to prove Toby’s innocence while protecting him from being found.

What I liked about this book was that it got me emotionally involved.  First of all, I really had a lot of questions that needed to be answered.  I needed to know where Betty was, and I was anxious to find out what would happen with Toby.  I had to see this story through to the end, even if there were slow parts.

What I didn’t like about this book was how many slow parts there were.  Oh my goodness… If I had been reading and not listening to the audiobook, I might have put this book down.  While it is really well-written and a great example of small moments, it is like an Oscar movie, where I can see why it won an award (Newbery Honor), but it didn’t keep me entertained.  It was almost artsy.

Book 18 of summer 2017!

The War that Saved My Life


The War that Saved My Life (hardcover)

by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

AR Level 4.1, 9 points

Newbery Honor 2016

I love historical fiction, especially when it’s broken down so I can understand it from a relatable point of view, and it tells an aspect of the event that I am unfamiliar with… those are my favorite.  When it comes to World War II, I’ve read lots of historical fiction about the holocaust, and not a whole lot more.

This book is from the perspective of a London native who was evacuated with her little brother to the countryside of Kent.  I didn’t know that children were evacuated and put with families in the country, though it certainly makes sense.  Ada isn’t like all of the other evacuees, though.  She has clubfoot, and has spent her entire life locked away by her abusive mother and told she’s ugly, simple, and unloved.  Ada’s little brother Jamie is her entire life, and she has to protect him from their mother and the world, but she is the one who really needs protecting.

Ada and Jamie escape to Kent and are placed with a woman named Susan.  We learn she has recently lost her “best friend” (but astute readers can infer it was her life partner since she was also disowned by her father for their relationship, and she feels such a deep loss).  Susan shows Ada and Jamie love, attention, affection, and care of their basic needs, which the children had never felt, and Ada has a hard time accepting.  This is not only a story about World War II evacuees, but of an abused girl who learns to care, and realize she herself is lovable.

What I liked about this book was that it was sent in a time that I have little experience with.  I think any reader will be able to learn more about the war from a child’s perspective, and to me, that is fascinating.  I liked that Ada went through such a great change, and that things worked out for the best for her (I love happy endings), and that it left me guessing.  I wanted a flash forward to see her progress in a year.

What I didn’t like was there were some parts that were hard to believe.  I found it hard to take in that a mother could be so harsh and show little remorse, even in the end.  I also didn’t like that there was unfinished plot lines.  I thought there was more that could have been explained.  People disappeared and building relationships weren’t seen through.

I would recommend this book, especially to readers who enjoy historical fiction.

Book 29 of 40 (year 2)