Jessica's books

The One and Only Ivan
Revolutionary War on Wednesday
Leprechaun in Late Winter
Ella Enchanted
The Courage of Sarah Noble
Plain Murder
Gone-Away Lake
Circling the Sun
Maggie and Max
The Haunting of Sunshine Girl
The Night Sister
Tuck Everlasting
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Bedknob and Broomstick
Mister Monday
Alice Through the Looking Glass
The Birchbark House
The Hobbit
The Witch's Daughter

Jessica's favorite books »

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Book Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Synopsis (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:

This is the second book that Ms. Sepetys has written about World War II.  What I really appreciate about both Salt to the Sea and Shades of Gray are that they are about a part of the war that many of us don't learn much about.  We all know the atrocities committed by Hitler against the Jewish people and those he found "inferior."  I don't feel that many people learn a lot of Stalin and the struggles of the Lithuanians.  In fact, until I read Shades of Gray, I knew nothing about any of that.  I have to appreciate a story that teaches us about another aspect of the war.  I think we can all stand to learn more history.  

Salt to the Sea takes us back to World War II and the tragic sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German ship that was overfilled with refugees fleeing the country.  The Wilhelm Gustloff was a real ship that was actually sunk but until this book, I had never heard of it. 
The book is told from alternating views (Joana, Florian, Emilia and Alfred) and starts with a group of refugees fleeing from the Russian soldiers that are invading Germany and Poland.  They are traveling to Gotenhafen, on the coast of the Baltic Sea.  The group includes Joana, Eva, a blind girl (whose name is completely slipping my mind at the moment), the Shoe Poet and the Wandering Boy. This group meets up with a German soldier, Florian, and a Polish girl, Emilia.  
Joana is a Lithuanian nurse and feels an incredible need to help people.  She is also carrying a very guilty conscious and a sad secret.  Eva is a giant of a woman who speaks her mind in a "sorry, not sorry" kind of way.  The shoe poet was one of my favorite characters.  He was an older gentleman who was a shoemaker and did his very best to keep everyone's spirits up.  He was the sunshine in that group.  The Wandering Boy (Klaus) was a child that was fleeing with his grandmother until the morning when his grandmother simply didn't wake up.  
Florian is a German who was working with Gauleiter Erich Koch.  He was unwittingly aiding the Germans in their theft of priceless art.  Florian was gifted with being able to copy any document almost to perfection, a gift that comes in very handy for him.  After finding out that he has been deceived, Florian is on the run with a secret of his own.
Emilia was sent by her father to a farm for safety.  Little did he know that his daughter was not at all safe and she ends up running away from the farm with a heavy burden.  She meets Florian when Florian saves her from a Russian soldier.  Florian is also wounded and the two are lucky to meet up with Joana's group.
The story is also told from Alfred's point of view.  Alfred is a character that I hated with every single fiber of my being.  He was your typical Nazi.  He felt that the "superior" race was the only race that should be alive.  The funny thing about Alfred is that he is so far from "superior" that it's amazing that he even got into the German Army.  He is weak and sick, not to mention quite crazy (or maybe just brainwashed).  He made up letters in his head to a girl and tells her about how important he is when in reality he is a nobody in the army.

Once they get to the Wilhelm Gustloff, the group is loaded on board the ship along with 10,000 other crew and refugees.  The ship's capacity was only1,880.  Russian torpedoes sink the ship hours after it left the coast and resulted in over 9,000 deaths. 

The short chapters, alternating views and constant activity made this book hard to put down.  I was able to read it very quickly, connect with most of the characters and was heartbroken at the end.  The only thing I wish was that the conclusion of the story was a little....more.  You find out what happens to the majority of the characters (except Eva...I wanted to know if Eva made it) but you don't really find out if Florian found his sister or Joana found her mother.  I would have liked a little more in depth explanation as to how they got to where they were but that is my only complaint about the book. 

I think this is a fascinating story about a part of history that many people have never even heard about.  I think it's a book everyone should read, to be honest.  I definitely recommend it!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Teaser Tuesday: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm.


Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My Teaser is from Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys.  I just started this book so I'm not very far into it but I really like it.  

I leaned over and put my mouth to his ear.  It was barely a whisper. 
 "I'm a murderer."

From Salt to the Sea pg. 47.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Book Review: Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica

Pretty Baby

Synopsis (from Goodreads):  

She sees the teenage girl on the train platform, standing in the pouring rain, clutching an infant in her arms. She boards a train and is whisked away. But she can't get the girl out of her head...

Heidi Wood has always been a charitable woman: she works for a nonprofit, takes in stray cats. Still, her husband and daughter are horrified when Heidi returns home one day with a young woman named Willow and her four-month-old baby in tow. Disheveled and apparently homeless, this girl could be a criminal—or worse. But despite her family's objections, Heidi invites Willow and the baby to take refuge in their home.

Heidi spends the next few days helping Willow get back on her feet, but as clues into Willow's past begin to surface, Heidi is forced to decide how far she's willing to go to help a stranger. What starts as an act of kindness quickly spirals into a story far more twisted than anyone could have anticipated.

My Review: 

This past summer I read and LOVED The Good Girl so I was pretty excited when I got my hands on this book. However, I was a little disappointed in this one. It definitely was not up to par with The Good Girl.

Heidi is always trying to help people. She is married to Chris and has a 12 year old daughter, Zoe. Heidi's dream was to have a large family but a bout with cancer derailed all those plans. Heidi's husband, Chris, is an investment banker. He spends a lot of time at work and on different business trips. Zoe is a very angry 12 year old. She hates everyone and everything. Zoe's attitude reminded me more of a 15 or 16 year old's attitude. I thought it was strange that she was only 12. I have an 11 and a 13 year old and neither of them act anywhere close to that (maybe I'm just lucky?) yet. I don't know but it just didn't ring true to me.

Heidi sees Willow, a young, homeless girl with a baby one day at the train station. She then makes it her mission to take the girl and the baby in to help them. Chris, understandably, has a problem with this. Who takes in a homeless girl and her baby with NO information about them. From this point on, I really disliked Heidi. She did not care at all about her family's safety. She has a 12 year old daughter and she just brings in this stranger and expects her husband and daughter to be okay with it and also for her daughter to let Willow "borrow" some clothes.

From this point on, it is hard to tell you about this book without giving away some major spoilers. So I will just tell you that I really didn't like Heidi. She obviously has some serious issues that need to be dealt with and towards the end, her attitude towards her daughter is ridiculous. She completely ignores her, forgetting to pick her up after soccer practice, forgetting to attend her soccer games or pick her up from them or make her dinner. You will find out what is going on with Heidi but I still didn't like her.

Chris was so busy with work that he was hardly home but with a wife like Heidi, I kind of don't blame him. Once Heidi brought Willow in, Chris was more involved for the safety of his daughter but was still gone a lot. At least he had a little common sense though. I actually really liked Chris.

Willow was a sad and complicated character. Her story was heartbreaking to me and I could completely relate to the things she did. That's not to say she made the right choices but you could understand how her mind was working.

I thought the book was a little slow through the beginning and middle. It was one that I was easily able to put down and do other things and not pick up for a day or two. Once I got towards the end though, I could not put it down at all and ended up staying up late to finish it. I was disappointed in the ending because I had so many questions left over. What happened to Matthew? What happened to Heidi and Chris and Zoe? So many unanswered questions...

So, this was definitely a good book but not the best. If you like psychological thrillers, I would recommend this. Just know that the conclusion will leave you with many unanswered questions.