Kalahari

 

People are like stars, but it’s stories that turn us into constellations. If we don’t tell our stories, we burn alone in the dark.

Title: Kalahari

Author: Jessica Khoury

Series: Corpus # 3 (Can be a standalone)

Publication: January 19th 2016 by Razorbill

Pages: 384

Source: Library

Summary from Goodreads:

When an educational safari goes wrong, five teens find themselves stranded in the Kalahari Desert without a guide. It’s up to Sarah, the daughter of zoologists, to keep them alive and lead them to safety, calling on survival know-how from years of growing up in remote and exotic locales. Battling dehydration, starvation and the pangs of first love, she does her best to hold it together, even as their circumstances grow increasingly desperate.
 
But soon a terrifying encounter makes Sarah question everything she’s ever known about the natural world. A silver lion, as though made of mercury, makes a vicious, unprovoked attack on the group. After a narrow escape, they uncover the chilling truth behind the lion’s silver sheen: a highly contagious and deadly virus that threatens to ravage the entire area—and eliminate life as they know it.


My Thoughts:

I finished this a few days ago, but it’s taken me until this moment to figure out what I have to say. I’m, in all honesty, still not one hundred percent sure that I love this book. I like it, I like it a lot – to be exact. It was fun, entertaining, nerve wracking, heart pounding, and thought provoking. However, despite how much I loved everything about this book, one small thing is holding me back – characterization.

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The Sandcastle Empire

The fire pops, hisses. War is like this: consuming, ravenous, feeding and feeding until there’s nothing left to take and all that’s left is ash.

Title: The Sandcastle Empire

Author: Kayla Olson

Series: Standalone (for now)

Publication:  June 6th 2017 by HarperTeen

Pages: 464

Source: OwlCrate

Summary from Goodreads:

Before the war, Eden’s life was easy—air conditioning, ice cream, long days at the beach. Then the revolution happened, and everything changed.

Now a powerful group called the Wolfpack controls the earth and its resources. Eden has lost everything to them. They killed her family and her friends, destroyed her home, and imprisoned her. But Eden refuses to die by their hands. She knows the coordinates to the only neutral ground left in the world, a place called Sanctuary Island, and she is desperate to escape to its shores.

Eden finally reaches the island and meets others resistant to the Wolves—but the solace is short-lived when one of Eden’s new friends goes missing. Braving the jungle in search of their lost ally, they quickly discover Sanctuary is filled with lethal traps and an enemy they never expected.

This island might be deadlier than the world Eden left behind, but surviving it is the only thing that stands between her and freedom.


My Thoughts:

I had no idea what to expect from this book when I pulled it out of the June OwlCrate box a week ago. I distantly remembered hearing some people talk about The Sandcastle Empire and adding it to my Goodreads TBR, but that was it. I didn’t know what it was about, who the characters were, or even what genre it was. However, I was excited to start it, and so I did. It’s not often that I read a book where I go in completely blind. Usually, I’ve at least heard something about it before – but, for The Sandcastle Empire, that blindness gave way to an amazing, unpredictable reading experience.

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Salt to Sea

“I raised my face to the sun. My war had been so long, my winter so cold. But I had finally made it home. And for the first time in a long time, I was not afraid.”

Title: Salt to Sea

Author: Ruta Sepetys

Series: Standalone

Publication: February 2nd 2016 by Philomel Books

Pages: 400

Source: Publisher in exchange for a honest review

 

Summary from Goodreads:

Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.

Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.

As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.

Yet not all promises can be kept.

Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, bestselling and award-winning author Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) lifts the veil on a shockingly little-known casualty of World War II. An illuminating and life-affirming tale of heart and hope.

My Thoughts:

While I have never read any of Ruta Sepetys’ work before, her name has always been floating around in my mind. I remember hearing about Between Shades of Grey. I remember seeing it on the shelves way before I started blogging. I remember resolving to read it later and put it back. Well, now I can say I made one of the biggest mistakes when I put it down. Ruta Sepetys is brilliant – her work nothing short of pure genius. Salt to Sea is only the tip of the ice berg about to crush the flood gate and let the rising tide through.

Salt to Sea takes place in 1945 – four years after the German invasion of Russia during WWII. While the war may be drawing to a close, the terrors are still fresh and a daily occurrence in the eyes of refugees fleeing for a ship off the coast. Then the ship is attacked by a Russian submarine, and the refugees are forced to watch their only chance of hope sink right before their eyes – and then they must find a way to survive.

This book is told through four perspectives: a runaway, a thief, a burdened teen, and a Nazi. Joanna is a runaway from Lithuania and a nurse. Her heritage is what drives her throughout the story, the guilt she feels over abandoning her family to create a future for herself is what fuels her need for survival. She was smart, brave, and oh so strong. Then we have a thief, Florian, who was so complex it was like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube blindfolded (hint: I can’t even solve them with my eyes open). His only goal – despite his random and daring acts of kindness – is to find a way to be free of Germany and all of the pain it represents. Then, my favorite for more reasons than I can possibly describe, Emilia. She broke my heart. She’s just so…. real. No matter what happens and what she had already lived through – she just puts one foot in front of the other and keeps truckin’ on. She refused to give up even when giving up was the easiest thing to do. She was so steadfast, so fierce and shameless in her bravery. It was beautiful. Now, the most surprising of the bunch – Alfred. I have no idea what to say about him…. he is everything I hate about WWII and Germany at the time, and yet… it was so damn interesting to see things through his eyes.

If you’re looking for a happy book, a book that will make you smile and help you sleep at night – turn back now. Salt to Sea was not easy to read in any way, shape, or form. It was painful. Each word was like a sharpened knife with a laser sight set directly on your heart. The war was not kind, we know that from our history – but seeing it like this, having it up all in your face flashing every single thing you never wanted to see and what you wanted to forget even existed… Just wow. I had to put this down more than once and walk away. I had to take breaks. Hell, at one point I even chose to do my homework rather than keep reading because it hurt so much. This doesn’t make light of what happened – nor does it make it so obviously horrible that it becomes trivial. It is a careful balancing act. Humans are a bunch of monsters. That’s something we should never forget.

Salt to Sea is one of those special books. It’s one of those books that forces you to stop and think, to remember. Ruta Sepetys creation is a masterful weaving of history, pain, and what it is like to hope when it seems impossible. If you have any sense at all, you will find this book at the nearest opportunity so that you may share in the pain of millions – even if only for four-hundred pages.

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Instructions for the End of the World Review & Interview

 

“You said the world might end in fire, or in ice, and that the how of it didn’t matter so much as the importance of being prepared for the worst. You said only the strongest would survive.”

Title: Instructions for the End of the World

Author: Jamie Kain

Series: Standalone

Publication: December 8th 2015 by St. Martin’s Griffin

Pages: 224

Source: Publisher in exchange for an honest review

 

Summary from Goodreads:

He prepared their family for every natural disaster known to man—except for the one that struck.

When Nicole Reed’s father forces her family to move to a remote area of the Sierra Foothills, one without any modern conveniences, it’s too much too handle for her mother, who abandons them in the middle of the night. Heading out to track her down, Nicole’s father leaves her in charge of taking care of the house and her younger sister, Izzy. For a while, Nicole is doing just fine running things on her own. But then the food begins to run out, the pipes crack, and forest fires start slowly inching their way closer every day. Wolf, a handsome boy from the neighboring community, offers to help her when she needs it most, but when she starts to develop feelings for him, feelings she knows she will never be allowed to act on once her father returns, she must make a decision. With her family falling apart, will she choose to continue preparing for tomorrow’s disasters, or will she take a chance and really start living for today?

Instructions for the End of the World is a gripping, young adult novel that explores family, friendship, and love in the midst of the most difficult and dangerous circumstances.

 

My Thoughts:

Instructions for the End of the World is more than just another “end of the world” story, it is a breathtaking tale that explores the deep bonds of family and what it means to survive. This wonderful book has nothing to do with the apocalypse or the world ending, contrary to what the title leads you to believe, but rather – it is a narrative about dealing with being abandoned and forced into taking the weight of raising a younger sibling on your shoulders. It is a story of discovering the importance of individuality and freedom.
The Reeds are doomsday preppers, well, Nicole and Izzy’s father is a doomsday prepper. He has prepared them for every type of disaster possible – earthquakes, fires, floods, and volcanoes – everything except what actually happens: him leaving. Nicole and Izzy are left alone in the woods, and soon the food beings to run out. It falls on Nicole to take care of Izzy, and using all of the handy-dandy survival training, she does just that.
Instructions for the End of the Worldis told in four points of view: Wolf, Nicole, Izzy, and Laurel. Each character had a unique voice and a different way of looking at the circumstances or what was going on around them. Wolf was my favorite by far – despite the fact that this story was mainly about Nicole and Izzy. Personally, I would have preferred one or two POVs. This story felt far too convoluted with the four of them going at it all at once. The writing was beautiful, lyrical even, but that replaced character development and a more fleshed out plot line. The book was still amazing and I loved reading it – don’t get me wrong here – I just think it could have been so much more, you know?
As for the characters, like I said, each one was unique in their own little way. I loved Wolf, I really did. Not only is his name badass, but he had this deep understanding and connection with nature that I absolutely loved reading about. I think I connected with his character the most, actually – even though on a surface level I was much more in sync with Nicole. Each voice brought something a little different to the table and opened your eyes in a different way – it was pretty enjoyable. Nicole was the most fleshed out of the characters, as well as being the only one that showed real development over the course of the novel. She starts off trying to do the right thing and care for her sister, and while at the end she is still doing the same, she is now doing it for her own reasons rather than what her father always told her to do. Izzy… I didn’t like her. There, I said it. She was just too stereotypical “I hate everything” younger sibling who did stuff simply because you would tell her not to.
I have to say – there were two things that made this book a hit for me: the setting and the focus on family. The fact that The Reeds is a thing in this book in no way affected my view (that’s a lie). The setting of this book is breathtakingly beautiful – and, considering I’ve actually been there, I felt even more connected to the setting than I did to the characters themselves. The world we find ourselves in is vivid, colorful, and full of life. My other favorite part was the exploration of the family dynamics here – it was stunning. I love it when a book focuses more on the relationships between siblings or between a child and a parent rather than a love interest. There is still romance here, trust me, but it is not the focal point. Seeing the way the relationship between Nicole and Izzy was strained and then how it blossomed into what it is at the end was by far the best and most rewarding part of reading this book.
Overall, Jamie Kain has created an unforgettable, original, and exciting coming of age novel. Instructions for the End of the World explores what it means to be family and how those bonds can be tested. It explores the meaning of losing innocence, or recognizing the fact that your childhood is over. Instructions for the End of the World illustrates the incredible idea that freedom is not only important, but it is only yours to control. Surviving the end of the world may be a possibility, it may even be a definite outcome, but what’s the point if you’re not living your life for you? What’s the point of surviving the end of the world if nothing good is waiting for you on the flip side? This book is definitely one I will remember for the rest of my life.

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On top of my review, I was given the chance to interview the wonderful Jamie Kain. Do you know how much fun that is? Check it out down below:

1. What made you decide on the setting of the Sierra Foothills? Did that influence the way you told the story?

I love the Sierra Foothills and have spent plenty of time there, so when I wanted a rural setting, one in which a family might be able to set up a sort of compound—as well as one that would be likely to have a spiritual retreat type of community present and a good likelihood of wildfires, it was a natural choice. I’ve been to several spiritual retreats in the foothills, so it felt very appropriate, and I could imagine in great detail the place I was writing about. Plus it was easy to take a short drive there when I wanted to do research!

2. I have to ask, mostly for my own enjoyment, why did you choose the last name Reed for your protagonist? (I applaud)

Ha! I just like the name. I wish I had a more scholarly answer, but I tend to choose protagonist names based on what the character is like in combination with what I like the sound of—or what just feels right when applied to the character.

3. Did you do any research regarding doomsday prep before delving into the writing?

Oh yes. The research was fun and fascinating. I know someone who is a prepper, and I know a few would-be preppers as well, so aside from talking to them to get insights on their reasons for believing what they believe, I did lots of reading about the world of prepping. I totally understand and appreciate the desire to be self-sufficient. You don’t have to live in California for long to feel the limits of civilization—from a population standpoint as well as with regard to water resources and possible natural disasters (especially fire in recent years). In fact it was the post-apocalyptic feel of having wildfires near where I live (the smell, the air pollution, etc), visiting charred forests, and having it constantly on the news that partly inspired the story and made me more curious about the world of prepping.

4. I loved the focus on family and the relationships between family members. Why did you decide to make that the focal point rather than romance like a lot of other Young Adult contemporary books?

I find family dynamics endlessly fascinating—and so fraught with inherent conflict, I just love writing about families. Also, I have two young adult readers at home, in addition to reading YA myself, and none of us read much YA romance. I’ve noticed how hard it is to find contemporary YA stories that aren’t romances, too, and so in part I was writing what I like to read.

4. How did you come up with writing the separate point of views? Do you have a process for keeping everything specific to one character straight?

I love writing stories from the POV of multiple characters. All 4 characters are very real people to me, and they just happened to be the people who wanted to tell the story. I didn’t have to decide who was telling me what. The characters decided that. Perhaps that sounds nutty, but I do feel like I’m not a big part of the process. Once the characters are fully imagined, they are just people who are telling me a story, and I’m writing it down. I love switching from one point of view to another in part because it keeps the story fresh, and in part because I’m always curious about what the other main characters are seeing and feeling about the situation.

5. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

I was an aspiring writer for a long time, so I remember some of the advice that kept me going during hard times. It’s important to know that those who make it as writers are the ones who keep trying—they keep trying to improve their craft, keep writing in the face of rejection, and keep submitting their work, taking feedback, and trying again to improve. It’s partly a game of endurance. There is luck involved too, but the more you get your work out there, the more chances you give yourself to get lucky.

Also, always respect your audience. Never write for cynical reasons, such as “YA is where the money is.” I don’t even think that’s true, but I hear people say it a lot and with great confidence, and it always makes me do a double take. I don’t think about the fact that I’m writing for a certain audience, honestly. I sit down and write a story I would love to read. I pour everything I have into it. Someone told me about my first YA novel, The Good Sister, that I was wasting my talent writing for teen readers, that what I was writing would be lost on them. I don’t believe that at all. Teens are at a unique place in life where they have the chance to decide what they believe about life’s big questions, so if you are going to write for teenagers, why not give them a chance to ponder big ideas and big questions in their fiction?

The advice I hated the most as an aspiring writer but appreciate the most now that I’ve been writing for my entire adult life is that you absolutely must find your joy in the process of writing, day in and day out, all alone in a room—and not in the goal of publication. Publication is ephemeral. It comes and goes. It’s joys are very temporary. What you are always left with though as a writer is the process of writing. If you don’t find your joy there, go do something that does brings you joy.

 

Stranded

“It’s human instinct to survive…but Mother Nature has other plans.”

Title: Stranded
Author: Melinda Bruan
Series: Standalone
Publication: August 25th 2015 by Simon Pulse
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher at ALA

Summary from Goodreads:

Plagued with guilt after surviving the car accident that took her sister’s life, Emma ventures into the rugged and mysterious wilderness of the Boundary Waters in search of some much needed peace. But when a freak windstorm kills her guide, Emma and a handful of other campers are forced to fend for themselves. Lost, hungry, and exhausted, the small group must rely on their survival instincts as they travel through the forest towards Lake Superior.

But the Boundary Waters is vast and unpredictable, and as the days drag on, it becomes clear that the group is no match for what Mother Nature has in store—and time is running out.

As they continue to battle the elements, Emma realizes that nature isn’t her only threat: there’s one camper who will do whatever it takes to make it out of the Boundary Waters alive. Even if he’s the only one…

With ripped-from-the-headlines drama, this stirring story of heroism and survival will have you at the edge of your seat until the very last page.

My Thoughts:

Okay, I just have to say that I absolutely loved this book. I have to admit, I was afraid that this was going to be too much like The Hunger Games when it came to surviving in the forest – but Stranded completely blew me away. It was real, raw, and an all-around page turner in the truest sense of the word. I needed to know what was going to happen next, I felt their hunger and their fear – it was brilliant.
A lot of people are complaining about the repetitiveness of the chapters, of how it is the same struggle every day to find food, shelter, and water – but I loved it. To me, it was completely realistic. I think that was one of the things I loved the most about this book, none of it was glamorous. They stank, they struggled to use the restroom, and basic everyday things became the biggest hardship and battle. When you’re stranded like they are, of course you’re going to have to find food and water everyday if you don’t have enough. They only had small canteens to fill with water, four canteens for four people – that is a lot of necessary refilling. The drama with certain characters was the same yes, but that was also realistic. Bruan kept the drama centered around a particular character’s attitude – and the fact that it didn’t change impressed me, it shows the ability to keep things consistent. I know, character development and all that jazz – but this had nothing to do with that.
I don’t really know what else to say, this book was so amazing that I find myself at a loss for words. The characters were wonderful, each one had a distinct personality and all of them changed over the course of the book. Being stranded out in the wild changed them, as it rightfully should.

Overall, I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading, hiking, or the outdoors. Stranded really is entertaining, I loved it so much I can’t think of what to say right now. Maybe, one day I’ll come back and add more once I have had time to truly process the beauty that I just finished reading. I would leave this book for ages fourteen and up, there is some mild sexual harassment, cuss words, and the graphic nature of their situation could frighten people. I know this review is really short, but all I can say is this, go grab a copy before your next hiking/camping trip!