Monday, February 29, 2016

Review: The Abyss Surrounds Us

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie
Publisher: Flux
Release Date: February 8th, 2016
Source: ALA Midwinter
Date Read: 2/11/16 to 2/14/16
288 pages

For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.

There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.

But Cas has fought pirates her entire life. And she's not about to stop.

I received this ARC in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from ARC may or may not be in the published edition.

I am incredibly pleased to have picked up The Abyss Surrounds Us, seeing that it wasn't exactly high on my list initially. But then, as I read the blurb, I just had to read it. The cover itself gave me Mass Effect feels, even though the setting itself didn't take place in outer space. But it did take place out at sea, and at a floating island, so close enough, right?

Cas is a Reckoner trainer, or one in training, in that she works on training these huge sea monster-like creatures. And what do these creatures do exactly? Well they defend ships from pirates, by imprinting on their ship and protecting it by smashing up the other ships. And you see, none of the pirates could get a hold of these Reckoners, since bringing them up is no easy task. Except for now, of course.

Or smashing into walls, I suppose
Which is why when Cas is captured by The Minnow, run exclusively by pirates, she knows she's done for. But instead of taking her own life, she meets Swift, a girl fighting to be next in line to be captain. Their relationship starts off a little rocky, but throughout the novel, the two of them learn to tolerate each other, which later turns into a strong bond of trust and loooooooove. The ship is here folks, on the pirate ship. Yep. And it's not like their relationship is all ooey-gooey either. Swift has to look out for herself, and so does Cas, but slowly, this transitions into the both of them looking out for each other.

And Cas is Cantonese! Or at least part? This story takes place way in the future where the geography is a little messed up due to rising sea levels, but Cas does mention her heritage at a point, and it made me happy~

Along with huge sea monsters, and epic ship battles, the story itself was fantastic and unique. Although the plot was a little slow-paced, there was no lack of character development. Did I mention that the f/f relationship was never made out to be weird or different? And never did Cas or Swift question their own sexuality, meaning that they already knew their sexuality or labels didn't really matter in their world. Either way, it was refreshing, especially since this rarely happens in science fiction or fantasy.

So did I convince you to read this? Because you definitely should. This features so many great things, from pirates to a wonderful f/f romance, and SEA MONSTERS, and amazing characters. The Abyss Surrounds Us definitely went above and beyond my expectations, and I am so happy because of that.

Oh my bad, not this kind of "sea monster"

Sunday, February 28, 2016

An Innocent Life #5: I Have A Future!

Remember that time where I mentioned that I would have more time to blog and read during the Spring semester, because it would be my last semester? Yeah no. That's not going to happen either. I guess we will push back my free time until, summer? Ha. Haha.

I didn't get any new books this month, other than A Gathering of Shadows, which I am super excited to read! I literally had her signed copy from B&N pre-ordered since August. I'm really hoping I'll have time to read it before March starts, but I'm not sure. I may have to juggle reading a couple of books at a time.

A photo posted by Valerie (@innocent.smiley) on

As you can see, I am having fun with Instagram. I don't really like the texture of my sheet though, and it is hard to take pictures looking straight down at books (HOW do people do it?), so I may be investing in a posterboard tomorrow! I'll think about it.

Also, I hit 300 followers this month via Bloglovin as well, which isn't a surprise seeing that I have two giveaways running at the moment. But still, huge achievement, right?

Sarah @ Kerosene Lit discusses about people IRL stumbling upon your blog, and I may have left a long rant about my roommates. Whoops. But shout out to my dad for reading all my posts! Hi Dad!

Amber @ YA Indulgences talks about both selling & buying ARCs and whether it is ever justifiable, along with the piracy of eARCs. These are both such informative posts, and I definitely suggest reading through both of them.

And in that similar vein, Shannon @ It Starts At Midnight tells us why she is sticking to reading all the ARCs, and I will be too!

Mishma @ Chasing Faerytales lists out both her own blogger insecurities, and those of others! I forgot to submit mine on time, so I just left them in a comment, haha oops.

Chiara @ Books for a Delicate Eternity asks if you prioritize your reading. Especially in regards to ARCs. I try to. I at least get my reviews done within the month!

Rashika @ The Social Potato discusses why it's okay to not read all the ARCs. Which yes, because I don't think I can read all these ARCs before the release date, especially since they all come out on the same day.

Alyssa @ The Devil Orders Takeout gives tips about developing your own blogger trademark! She also guest posted on Chasing Faerytales, and you should all read this post about Asian Stereotypes.

Tonya @ Lilybloombooks asks whether you like advice posts, and what your opinion of them is!

Also, I'm not going to spam you guys again, but if you haven't noticed, I just hosted a wonderful, WWII event that took place these last two weeks with Ely. And it was a ton of fun, and as my first full event, I can say it was a huge success.

I don't know if you know this already. But yes, I have a future. In other words, I got into the PhD program I wanted to go to. And I have already received my letter with all the details about how much money I will be getting. And it is great. I am beyond excited.

I actually had another interview yesterday in Canada. And as cool as the program there was, I just don't think I can afford living on the stipend they will be giving me. And they expect me to pay tuition! Like what gives? It also does not help that it is super cold. I mean, I am USED to it by now, but when you're comparing it to a grad school in North Carolina, it is hard.

Don't be surprised when next year, I get overwhelmed by everything. I am hoping I can at least handle one blog post a week? Man, I do NOT want to think about it! But then I do, because apparently there are a lot of North Carolina authors, and they all have events at this bookstore called Flyleaf Books, which is less than 2 miles away from campus. And I could potentially live walking distance from it. How can I NOT be excited?

Speaking of, my parents finally moved to Florida into their new house! There is literally nothing in there, and I will be sleeping on an air mattress in my room, but that's okay I suppose. I cannot wait to go bookshelf shopping! And also, get a bed, because that's also important. Ha.

Thanks for reading! How was your February?

Friday, February 26, 2016

Thank You For This Awesome WWII Event! + Recap

Hello! I just want to thank everyone for participating in Ely and I's WWII event, Entries From The Secret Annex! I really enjoyed reading every single one of your guy's posts, and I'm sure everyone else did as well!

Before I leave all you off, I first want to remind you that there is a giveaway, which will again appear at the bottom of this post. You can win one of the five books listed, the first winner chosen at random will choose a book, and the second will choose from the rest, etc. until the 5th winner.

And here were all the posts featured throughout the event, on both my blog, and Ely's!

World War II TBR by Grace @ Rebel Mommy Book Blog
My Favorite WWII Books by Ely @ Tea & Titles
Salt to the Sea by Yours Truly
Prisoner of Night & Fog by Emily @ Follow The Yellow Book Road
The Nightingale by Cynthia @ Bingeing On Books
What Anne Frank Means To Me by Ely @ Tea & Titles
The Book Thief Movie by Holly @ The Fox's Hideaway
Suite Francaise by Anne @ Lovely Literature
Favorite WWII Movies by Ely @ Tea & Titles
Between Shades of Gray by Amy @ Ode to Jo & Katniss
WWII TBR by Ely @ Tea & Titles
5 Reasons To Be Excited For Girl In The Blue Coat by Emily @ Books and Cleverness
Why I Started Loving WWII by Cassi @ My Thoughts Literally
Front Lines by Ely @ Tea & Titles
The Life & Death in the Third Reich by Sarah @ NZ Book Lovers
Underloved WWII Recommendations by Ely @ Tea & Titles
A Personal Story by Shannon @ It Starts At Midnight
Diversity in WWII by Ely @ Tea & Titles

And with that, thank you so much for following along!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Guest Post: A Personal Story

I would like to introduce Shannon @ It Starts At Midnight, who has an amazing post about her grandfather, who fought in the war. I actually went to her parents' house with her to look at all of the WWII stuff, and it was great! But yeah, you should read this! And as a reminder, you can comment on this post, follow Shannon via Twitter and Bloglovin, and have that all count towards entries in the event's giveaway!

I will fully admit that I have not read enough books about World War II. Certainly not enough to satisfy young Valerie. I think she left a few copies of The Book Thief placed strategically around my room so that it always looks like the girl is staring at me? Yeah. I have a whole list of those that I want to read, and I hope to get to them soon. 

Thinking about World War II in general, I thought about how we really only know a few people’s real life stories. For every amazingly, heartwrenchingly told personal stories, such as Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, there are quite literally millions of stories that will never be told. There are stories from girls like Anne who never got to fulfill their dreams, there are stories from civilians from nearly every country on earth, stories from soldiers from both sides. Imagine the stories. The lifetimes

Because the thing is, for so many men and women who somehow made it home, World War II wasn’t the end. It was the beginning. For the vast majority of survivors, their lives were still short in years, even if they were far too full of the atrocities of war, and the worst (and in some cases, the best) of mankind. Now, more than seventy years since the end of the single most catastrophic event in human history, only a handful of those men and women remain with us. If you’re a younger reader, you likely don’t know any personally- Even the youngest servicemen would be close to their ninetieth birthdays, any civilian survivors would be well into their seventies if they even had memories of the war. 

But to get to tell one of those stories? It’s an honor. One that I don’t think I can do justice, but I am going to go ahead and try anyway. It’s a war story, yes. But a love story, a family story, a life story. 

My grandfather wasn’t the type to sit around and tell war stories. In fact, until I was much older, I didn’t even know he had been in the war, let alone in one of its biggest battles. In hindsight it makes sense. He was a kind soul, not boastful, not bitter. Clearly the war impacted his life in ways I can’t and will never be able to imagine. But outwardly? You’d certainly be unaware.

My grandmother was an easier nut to crack (bonus points for Mockingjay references, right?), I think because she understood the catharsis of sharing these stories- and perhaps the sheer importance of it. To appreciate this story, you must understand that my grandparents had the kind of love that all of us wish and hope and long for. Every single day of their lives, they genuinely wanted to be around each other. I still wish for that in my life everyday, and I often think that maybe if I shout into the void, they can hear me. It’s a nice thought, anyway. 

They married in June of 1944, right before my grandfather shipped out. (I’m pretty sure that Boy Meets World stole their story and did this episode, but I digress.) My grandmother went down to South Carolina, where he was leaving from, and they got married. Simply, without bells and whistles, without fancy dresses and guests and gifts. They got married because they couldn’t stand the thought of not being married. And then, he left.

Seriously, would you not love to be that happy? 

My grandmother told me about how hard it was while he was gone. Newly wed, but alone. Waiting, wishing for letters, any correspondence, but terrified of hearing bad news at the same time. But she also once said that even though it was awful for her, the hardest part was seeing the kind of hell that he was in. There was news, of course- not CNN-level, but enough that people at home understood what their loved ones overseas were taking on. And she knew that so many of them wouldn’t be coming home. 

My dad has done a lot of research about the battles my grandfather fought in. A lot. Dates, routes, attack patterns, he may have reenacted some in our basement, I don’t know. But I DO know that the most significant and well-known battle was The Battle of the Bulge. This battle “incurred their highest casualties for any operation during the war” for the United States, which is pretty intense in itself. Coupled with the exceptionally frigid cold weather, and surprise of the attack, I can’t imagine the physical and emotional toll, and the scars you’d inevitably carry for the rest of your life. Even in a war, even in a war you believe in, killing another human being… I don’t think you can ever fully recover from that. Watching your fellow soldiers and innocent civilians die? That has to cost even more. 

But he came back, as you’ve gathered by now. And I can’t help but wonder what kind of transition that is. Fighting, literally for your very life, all day every day. Then eventually, being popped back into society. There’s your wife, your home, your non-horrifying job. No one is telling you how to navigate your life, how to deal with the horrors. Certainly not back then, since we can’t even manage it now. But there was life to live, and I suppose in the end, he had to make a choice: either let the war consume him, or forge a path for himself. And I think that’s a brave choice. Not always a choice that a soldier is even capable of making, certainly not easy, but definitely something brave. He didn’t choose war, but he did choose life. 

And sometimes life means a small human. This is my small human father, who while still human, is no longer small.

They lived a humble, quiet life, in a small town that no one has certainly ever heard from. It does have one stoplight and a large fake gorilla that waves to you though, so I guess that’s something. He worked a bunch of jobs that probably weren’t any fun, but he provided for his family. They were happy and healthy and comfortable, and at the end of the day, that was what mattered. 

And eventually, my small human father became just my regular human father, went to college, got a job. He and my grandmother still had each other, in a house they’d lived in for decades. It was simple, but it was theirs. And when my father decided to spawn a couple humans of their own, my grandparents kind of morphed into super grandparents.


(Please, don’t pretend you wouldn’t be obsessed with small human-me too.)

You see, these people could have been fictional characters in a pretty badass World War II book. A young man being drafted into the army, a couple in love separated by war; a huge battle where lives were lost. But there’s so much more that happens after the last pages of the war are written. Who did they become? How did this change them? Did they live their best lives? Did the war change them forever, irreparably? 

Well the answer to the last question is of course it did. Because how could it not? But did they live their best lives? Yes. And maybe not in spite of the war- but maybe because of the war. They loved fiercely. They worked hard. They knew how fleeting, how frail life was. They knew to stand up for what they believed in. They knew firsthand the good and the bad in the world. 

Does this story have a happy ending? I like to think so. The above picture was taken at their sixtieth anniversary party. Six decades had passed, and the young people in love had turned into much older people, still fiercely in love, without the pre-war innocence,, but with experiences, and family, and life. 

They celebrated only one more anniversary after that, when my grandfather passed away. Even after his death, my grandmother’s love was as strong as ever. When she passed away two and a half years ago, my heart shattered again, but somewhere, somehow I hoped that maybe they got to be together again. Because in my mind that is the only way it makes sense. 

Like many books about World War II, theirs is now complete. But it will live on, and on, and on. In the love they had for each other, in the kindness and warmth and comfort that they brought to me and my brother. So really, the story simply never ends.

Shannon has been in love with reading since she can remember. Her absolute obsession began with The Baby-Sitters Club, and continued throughout high school. Then she found The Hunger Games, and the rest was, as they say, history. In addition to being inappropriately obsessed with all things THG, she quite fancies Young Adult books in general, and reads them when she should really be sleeping instead. You can find her at It Starts At Midnight!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Guest Review: Life and Death in the Third Reich

Today I'll be introducing Sarah @ NZ Book Lovers blog, who will be reviewing Life and Death in the Third Reich! Her review is really informative, and also incredibly interesting, so I urge you to read this! Also as a reminder, you can comment on this post, follow NZ Book Lovers via Twitter and visit their Facebook, and have that all count towards entries in the event's giveaway!

Life and Death in the Third Reich by Peter Fritzsche
Publisher: Belknap Press
Release Date: September 1st, 2009
368 pages

On January 30, 1933, hearing about the celebrations for Hitler s assumption of power, Erich Ebermayer remarked bitterly in his diary, We are the losers, definitely the losers. Learning of the Nuremberg Laws in 1935, which made Jews non-citizens, he raged, hate is sown a million-fold. Yet in March 1938, he wept for joy at the Anschluss with Austria: Not to want it just because it has been achieved by Hitler would be folly.

In a masterful work, Peter Fritzsche deciphers the puzzle of Nazism s ideological grip. Its basic appeal lay in the Volksgemeinschaft a people s community that appealed to Germans to be part of a great project to redress the wrongs of the Versailles treaty, make the country strong and vital, and rid the body politic of unhealthy elements. The goal was to create a new national and racial self-consciousness among Germans. For Germany to live, others especially Jews had to die. Diaries and letters reveal Germans fears, desires, and reservations, while showing how Nazi concepts saturated everyday life. Fritzsche examines the efforts of Germans to adjust to new racial identities, to believe in the necessity of war, to accept the dynamic of unconditional destruction in short, to become Nazis.

Powerful and provocative, "Life and Death in the Third Reich" is a chilling portrait of how ideology takes hold.

Part of what makes the Holocaust so incomprehensible, at least for me, is the sheer magnitude of the event itself: not just in the number of those who died but in the number of those who were involved in the systematic extermination of these so-called “undesirables” in German society. Understandably, accounts of the war from the German perspective are fairly difficult to come by, partly because many were ashamed of or did not understand the extent of their involvement, and partly because the focus of history has been primarily on the survivors and victims rather than the persecutors. What drew me to Peter Fritzsche’s book was that it attempted to explain, using a variety of primary sources, how the Germans regarded Hitler and the Nazi Party and to what extent they were, generally speaking, aware of and involved in the deportation and execution of their neighbours. In other words, Fritzsche attempts to provide an explanation for the Holocaust that is rooted not in the actions of political leaders or the machinations of Great Men, but in the needs, wants and beliefs of the people themselves.

How far he succeeds in doing this is of course an open question. As Fritzsche himself writes in his concluding chapter, “[part] of the knowledge about life and death in the Third Reich is the lasting incompleteness of explanation” (p.307). That being said, however, I came away from the book feeling as if I understood something about the Holocaust which I had never fully grasped before. Most popular depictions of the Germans of the period show them as devoted Nazis, oblivious observers, or cowed collaborators, with the occasional resistance fighter thrown in for good measure. One thing I noticed about Fritzsche's sources, however, was that many of them were ambivalent towards Nazism, or went through periods of self-doubt or extended self-analysis in which they struggled to re-negotiate their own moral and personal identities in order to accommodate their new reality. Even among the higher echelons of the Nazi Party and the SS, officers struggled with what they were being asked to do even as they went ahead and forced themselves to do it. It wasn’t simply fear or peer pressure which made them work to cooperate, either: part of it was also rooted in their own self-image. As Fritzsche describes, after World War I many Germans came to view the Treaty of Versailles as a “stab in the back,” and themselves as victims of secret Jewish and Communist machinations. With the help of Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, many ordinary Germans came to see themselves as participating in a racial struggle, such that being German came to be associated with being a National Socialist, even if an individual rejected specific tenets or the behaviour of the leaders. They came to view their work as part of a heroic history which was worthy of sacrifice and documentation (one of the most shocking descriptions Fritzsche provides is of soldiers photographing the systematic massacre of the Jews at places such as Babi Yar).

What I found perhaps the most interesting was Fritzsche’s analysis of Goebbels’ propaganda campaign and its impact. His discussion of the “Heil Hitler!” greeting and its fluctuating popularity, the concept of the Volksgemeinschaft or People's Community, and what he refers to as Nazism’s “audiovisual space,” struck me as eerily familiar in our era of political rhetoric and public relations campaigns, even down to some of the language and concepts still used today. Other writers have even compared reactions to the current refugee crisis to the pre-war years in Germany, though not without skepticism and questions regarding their moral equivalence. In any event, for me at least reading Fritzsche’s analysis made it easier to understand how something like the Holocaust could occur, and consequently how depressingly not incomprehensible or unrepeatable it really was.

Fritzsche writes clearly and quite accessibly, although he does tend to bounce around between dates and times a little within sections which can get a bit confusing if you’re not familiar with the general timeline of the Second World War. Apart from that, though, I found it a compelling and informative read and would definitely recommend it highly to anyone interested in the German experience of World War II.

Sarah has recently completed a double degree in Law, English and Linguistics and is about to move on to postgraduate study, with the goal of eventually obtaining a PhD. As a reader, she enjoys magical realism and literary fiction, as well as Jane Austen and the occasional adventure novel. In her spare time she also writes historical fiction, which she hopes to get published in the not-too-distant future. You can find her at NZ Book Lovers!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Guest Post: Why I Starting Loving WWII

Hi! For today, we have Cassi @ My Thoughts Literally, who will be talking about how she read outside of her comfort zone, and discovered WWII! Also, as a reminder, you can comment on this post, follow Cassi via Twitter and Bloglovin, and have that all count towards entries in the event's giveaway!

Hi Everyone, I'm so excited to be a part of this World War II feature with Val at The Innocent Smiley and Ely at Tea & Titles. This is going to be such a fun event with great reviews and discussions and I'm glad to be a part of it.

If you follow my blog then you may have seen my recent post talking about how used to have book prejudices. I know we're not supposed to judge a book by it's cover, but what about by it's synopsis? In the past I have been really guilty of this. Thinking I wouldn't like a book without even trying it. I know that sometimes we can be totally right, and thinking that you won't like a book and not reading it because of that. This takes things a step further and says that you write something off completely based on past experiences or never trying it before. Now I'm not a very picky reader. I read basically anything. Adult, YA, Middle Grade. It doesn't matter. I have a favorite genre but I read all genres. But there are just certain books that I tell myself I don't like and won't read. Then in 2014 I broke out of my comfort zone and tried some books I didn't think I would like. I was pleasantly surprised by so many of those. On that list of prejudices I've changed is historical fiction set in World War II.

Why I Thought I Didn't Like It

Well for one thing, I thought that they were really repetitive. It sounds terrible to say but there really are just so many books out there in the world that focus on a very specific aspect of the time period. Now don't get me wrong, I think that is a very important part of our history and we need to talk about and reflect on it and fiction is a great way of doing that. But when I'm choosing a book to read, one about the Holocaust is not going to be my first choice. Why, you ask?

Well I don't like books that are sad on purpose. I'm a crier. I can't help it, I wear my heart on my sleeve. If I were a betting woman I would guess that about 40% the books I read make me cry in some way shape or form, maybe more. And I don't read sad books! Imagine if I did, that would be an even higher percentage. So many books about the time period and set during World War II I know are going to be sad. For one thing wars usually means people are going to get killed. Death mean tears, no way around that. And for another thing, the horrors and atrocities that took place are really awful. Just thinking about identifying with a character who is going through that struggle makes me sad.

What Changed My Mind?

Good question. Well I think it was a gradual realization that there are a ton of really great books out there set during the time period. And like I mentioned in my discussion about being book prejudiced, being close-minded like that can do us a disservice as a reader. So I slowly gave more and more, usually very popular, books set during the time period a try. And I tried to disperse them throughout my reading schedule as a change of pace from my normal reads. I do themed months so doing a WWII theme is not a great idea based on my perception of the repetitive nature of the period but one within a historical fiction theme works well.

The other thing I did was focus on books that were different from my perceived idea about books from that setting. Just like any other genre or subject matter there is a lot of different kinds of books. So I read books set on the homefront, books about soldiers and spies, books set in different countries, books about events you don't often hear about. These subtle differences made me realize that the period had a lot of great historical fiction offerings. Speaking of those offerings...

Books I Read and Loved


1.) Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
The book that started it all off for me. It's very different from most WWII books and is just a super creative book in general. It's about a British spy plane crashing in Germany and the interrogation of Verity. The characters are great and the book is so interesting

2.) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This is one that I previously avoided. I knew a lot of people loved it but I also knew it was going to make me sob. It did but that doesn't mean it wasn't worth the hype.

3.) All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This is similar to The Book Thief so I think if you liked one you will like the other. The characters are great and it's a book on the homefront which is nice.

4.) Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
I read this recently and really loved it. It's about an event during the period that I had no idea about and found heartbreaking and so engaging.

Books I Want to Read


1.) Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin
I've heard good things about this one and I like that it's an alternate history kind of thing and that it's also post war but still sort of about the period.

2.) Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Now that I've read some Ruta Sepetys I want to read all her books. I know lots of historical fiction fans love this one so I need to read it.

3.) Front Lines by Michael Grant
Another alternate history kind of thing. But in general I love the idea of female soldiers and think it's a different kind of WWII book.

4.) Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
I loved Code Name Verity and own a copy of this book but the Holocaust setting sort of worries me a little bit.

How do you feel about books set during World War II? Which ones do you love? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. And thanks again to Val and Ely for hosting this event and including me! I can't wait to see more of the posts coming up.

Cassi reads any chance she can get. She will pretty much read anything and enjoys both YA and adult works. When she's not reading she can be found cooking, traveling, or hanging out with her super cute cat. You can find her at her blog, My Thoughts Literally!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Guest Review: Between Shades of Gray

Here we have Amy @ Ode to Jo & Katniss, who will be reviewing Between Shades of Grey, which coincidentally is part of the event giveaway! In other words, you can comment on this post, follow Amy via Twitter and Bloglovin, and have that all count towards entries in the event's giveaway!

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Publisher: Speak
Release Date: April 3rd, 2012
352 pages
Rating: 1/2

It's 1941 and fifteen-year-old artist Lina Vilkas is on Stalin's extermination list. Deported to a prison camp in Siberia, Lina fights for her life, fearless, risking everything to save her family. It's a long and harrowing journey and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive?

Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Lina is an average teenage girl living in Lithuania in 1941. She's best friends with her cousin and she loves art. In the world of war and politics, however, a storm is brewing that she is only vaguely aware of. Then the Soviets come to arrest families like Lina's, punishing them for crimes against their ideals.

Between Shades of Gray is, hands-down, one of the most important fiction books I've ever read. While I have read some incredible books about WWII, both fiction and non-fiction, Between Shades of Gray opened my eyes to a whole new aspect of the war I didn't even know about: people groups (not just Jews or people that hid them, but in this case non-Soviets living in the Baltic states) sent to Siberia for over a decade. For longer than the war. And somehow, it was kept quiet. No one came charging in to save the day. These people suffered in silence. And when they came home, they were outcasts.

Lina's story is an interesting mixture of incredibly sad but also a little hopeful. From the time she is forced to leave her home, crammed onto a cargo train with strangers, to her time at a labor camp, to her twelve year imprisonment in Siberia (which we only see a glimpse of), there are so many lows. Yet occasionally there is a small element of hope to carry her through.

I feel the story is probably realistic for the most part. When I expected something big and wonderful to happen to turn everything around, for Lina and her family to be saved from hardship, it didn't happen that way. And while a couple things did almost feel unlikely, the author's note afterward made it clear that people really did experience these various situations and survive them, just like Lina.

My one criticism of the book from a narrative standpoint was I felt there was an unresolved theme and the book sort of ends without real closure, however, I also understand why these choices were made and can respect it.

Between Shades of Gray haunted me for days. For me personally it raised the question of how aware I am of what is happening in the world in other countries. It's so easy to be wrapped up in our own lives and concerns, when there is so much more serious suffering happening elsewhere. It's easy to look back at history and blame people for not taking action back then, but will we one day be blamed for the same thing?

Needless to say, I am now a Ruta Sepetys fan, and I am eagerly anticipating reading more of her historical fiction.

If you've read Between Shades of Gray, what are your thoughts? Also, many thanks to Val for letting me contribute to this event!

Amy is an aspiring YA author and blogs at Ode to Jo and Katniss, where she talks about books, writing, TV, and movies. She's a Trekkie, chocoholic, and Hufflepuff. You can follow her almost anywhere on social media @acshawYA.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Guest Review: The Book Thief Movie

So here is Holly @ The Fox's Hideaway, who has finally watched the whole Book Thief movie, and reviewed it! All because I forced her to, because this movie (and of course the book) is my favorite! Also as a reminder, you can comment on this post, follow Holly via Twitter and Bloglovin, and have that all count towards entries in the event's giveaway!

“Words are life, Liesel.”

When I heard about Val’s event, I knew I had to sign up. I absolutely love WWII stories, and they’re some of my favorite books ever. But I had trouble coming up with a topic for this, and Val was actually the one who suggested that I finally finish The Book Thief movie and talk about it (this won’t be a review so much as just my general thoughts on how the adaptation went). You see, I had started the movie a long time ago but never got to the end. At the time, I’d only recently finished the book, and so I don’t think I was quite ready for the feels and heartbreak twice. And though the book is OBVIOUSLY better, the movie still packed a powerful punch on my emotions. But I had a feeling it would, given what happens in the book. So for anyone who hasn’t read The Book Thief yet, here’s your warning that there will be spoilers!

Knowing what already happens, having read the book beforehand, it didn’t make it any easier to sit through a movie for a certain scene that just gutted me. It was even, I want to say, more impactful watching it unfold rather than reading about it (though I didn’t cry as much as I did with the book). The war was awful, and stories like this will never not be emotional and hard to process. But they’re important. It’s important to remember, and to learn, and fiction is a safe place to do that. I can only imagine what it was like to live during that time. I can only imagine the struggles people faced, and how hard it was to just survive. But with books and movies such as this one, I can do more than imagine. Though they are not always entirely accurate or realistic, I thought The Book Thief was a fantastic depiction of WWII. And here is my breakdown of how I felt about the movie. ☺


I super love the actors and actresses they chose for this movie. Sophie Nélisse played Liesel, and I thought she did such a great job! Her portrayal of the quiet, determined, and utterly brave young girl fit in with how I saw book Liesel. Rudy (played by Nico Liersch) was adorable and lively and so charming, and he made me smile throughout the movie. I thought the guy who played Hans was PERFECT in his role. And even the narrator sounded like I thought he would when I read the book (But I was glad there were only, what, 3 areas where he narrated in the movie? I was happy there wasn’t much honestly, because any more than that would have felt unnecessary. It felt like just the right amount, especially the way he ended it).


One of my favorite parts of the book was the relationships between Hans and Liesel, and Liesel and Rudy. Liesel was shy, at first, with Hans and his wife. But Hans, the wonderful human being that he is, managed to coax her out of her shell and teach her how to read. He taught her the importance of words. He indulged her, when Rosa wished he wouldn’t. Throughout the story, and the movie, he and Liesel form a special bond that transcends age, one that is forged by choice rather than blood. And it was lovely. Liesel also found a best friend in Rudy, someone who challenged her but also listened, who she trusted without question. I think, if they’d had the chance, they would have fallen in love. And it makes me so sad that they never had the opportunity, because I adored their relationship SO much. It’s also incredibly heartbreaking that Liesel lost not only Rudy, but Hans and Rosa as well. Their love for her was something that she had hardly experienced in her life, and the Hubermanns made her feel like she belonged, like she was truly family. They gave Liesel a better life than she would have had. And then she ended up losing all of them, on top of the loss of her brother in the beginning, and it just HURT. Our poor, sweet book thief. ☹ But I was extremely happy that both of these relationships were portrayed so brilliantly, because I think they were some of the best aspects of the book, and not just my favorite. I also really loved the moments with Liesel and Rosa, and Rudy and his family. OH! And I adored the unlikely friendship between Liesel and Max, a Jewish man whom the Hubermanns take in for a few years so he has a chance to live. He teaches Liesel so much more than words, and she comes to understand just how unfairly he had been treated. She learns empathy and compassion by Hans and Rosa’s example and becoming friends with Max. It opens her up to more in the world, and it plays a big part in how she grows as a person. Basically, I loved that this was so character-driven. These people were the heart and soul of both the book and the movie.


The whole production and the setting felt very genuine and on point. There’s always a certain amount of wariness and apprehension involved when you’re watching book adaptations. I generally enjoy the movies I watch, even if they’re poor representations of the book (lookin’ at you, Vampire Academy). But even so, I thought the combination of the fantastic acting, the authentic imagery, and the depth of the characters and their relationships with each other put this book adaptation above so many others. And that ending? That was one of my favorite parts. It was super sad because those character deaths still hurt, but it was also just beautiful.

Because of my poor memory, I’m not completely sure how accurate this movie was to the book, but I can tell you this: it was a breathtaking adaptation. It is slow at times, definitely, and it’s not action-packed. It’s a quiet film, about love and life and making choices that define who you are as a person. It’s about doing what you believe is right, even if you could be killed for it, but doing it anyway because it would be wrong and cruel to do so otherwise. But sometimes people didn’t have any choices, and sometimes Death came too soon. If you’ve read the book, I strongly urge you to watch the movie if you haven’t seen it yet. Though OF COURSE the book is better, this was one of the best adaptations I’ve watched. I LOVED THIS MOVIE!

Holly loves to read, write, play video games, and watch Netflix. She spends way too much time binge-watching TV shows, procrastinating life, and disappearing into the pages of a book for hours on end. She started to blog as a way to give herself a creative outlet for writing and talk about books with people who "get" it. And it's since become one of the biggest passions she has ever have. You can find her at The Fox's Hideaway

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Guest Review: The Nightingale

I am happy to be introducing Cynthia @ Bingeing On Books, who will be reviewing The Nightingale! I have this on my kindle, and I really cannot wait to read it! Also as a reminder, you can comment on this post, follow Cynthia via Twitter and Bloglovin, and have that all count towards entries in the event's giveaway!

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: February 3rd, 2015
440 pages

In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.

FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France...but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can...completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real--and deadly--consequences.

Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Hi! My name is Cynthia and I blog over at Bingeing On Books. I am so happy to do a guest post for Entries from the Secret Annex, a WWII event hosted by Val and Ely. I would love to talk about one of the best WWII books I have read in a long time, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.

I am a huge fan of books set during WWII. WWII was such an awful period of history and I can’t imagine what some of those people went through. But as horrifying as many of the WWII stories are, I think that the main reason I love them is because there is always some measure of hope and survival and bravery. Amidst this dictator who wiped out millions of people, there are still people who made it through and who risked their lives to take down the enemy. I enjoy reading WWII books about different people or different events that you don’t normally hear about. The mark of a great author is one who makes you want to pick up a book and read more information about the subject they are writing about.

The Nightingale has all of that and so much more. This is the story of two sisters (Isabelle and Vianne) who are trying to survive the war and Germany's invasion of France. Isabelle risks her life time and time again to help with the French Resistance. Isabelle is eighteen years old and headstrong and she is determined to help with the war effort, despite the fact that everyone (her sister included) tell her that there is nothing an eighteen year old girl can do to help. I loved how determined Isabelle was. She risked her life for the war effort. She started as a spy who issued damning pamphlets against the Nazis. But soon, she wanted to do more and that’s when she started helping airmen escape from France into Spain. This part of the book was based on the true story of a Belgian woman who helped downed Allied airmen escape from Nazi capture by leading them over the Pyrenees mountains in France. Kristin Hannah managed to perfectly capture the danger of the mountains and the fear Isabelle and the airmen and everyone helping them felt every time they crossed that mountain. The hikes were long and arduous and they had very little food, but they did it. Isabelle faced sexism from airmen who didn’t want to follow a girl, but the fact that people had a tendency to underestimate women meant that she was not a suspect. None of the enemy’s soldiers suspected her simply because she was a girl and I loved that.

Vianne is probably the character that went through the most character development. At the beginning of the book, Vianne is living in a very small village outside of Paris with her husband and young daughter. Vianne and her husband are both devastated when he is called to war and they hope the war won’t last long so that he can come home. Vianne has never really been on her own before. She was raised by a distant father and married very young. There are countless times where she mentions just wanting her husband home so he can fix things. She isn’t sure what to do on her own and she just wants to survive until he can come home. At the beginning of the book, she seems very weak. This is annoying, but is somewhat realistic of attitudes at the time. Eventually, she is forced to house a Nazi soldiers and she starts to see the world for what it is. She starts out as this very naïve housewife, but she commits so many brave acts and confronts danger head on. She becomes just as brave as her sister.

Both sisters are so different, but both women save lives during the war and they do it with no thought to their own lives and with no desire for recognition. Because this is a book about war, it isn't pretty or happy. There were so many times that I gasped out loud or bit my nails in suspense. No character was safe in this book and happy endings are all relative. Like many other WWII books, this one had me sobbing at so many points during the book. There was so much despair and sacrifice and horrible decisions to be made, but there was also hope and perseverance. Not many WWII books focus on what women went through during this war or the many ways that women helped to fight the enemy even though they were not in combat. If you enjoy WWII books, I know you will love this one.

Cynthia is obsessed with books. She has over a hundred books on her Kindle, but continues to buy more. She talks about all things book related on her blog, and posts reviews, quotes, images, lists and even book related merchandise. You can find her at  Bingeing On Books

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Review: Salt To The Sea

Salt To The Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Publisher: Philomel Books
Release Date: February 2nd, 2016
Source: Bought
Date Read: 2/11/15
400 pages

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.

I'm going to be very honest here, I have yet to read Between Shades of Gray, yet I still was highly, highly anticipating Salt to the Sea. And I am so happy to say that yes, this is a fantastic WWII novel.

Salt to the Sea features four very unique characters, Joana, Emilia, Florian, and Alfred. They are all facing their own situation, but come together at some point in the novel, whether it's from trekking through the snow together, or meeting up on the ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff. 

I'm not even sure how to begin my review. The way the author masterfully revealed each of the characters' backgrounds brought the story together. Even with Emilia having little dialogue due to the language barrier, I was completely drawn into her story. Joana herself was also incredibly tough, but motherly. As a nurse, she helped anyone and everyone. Florian is the loner, and he rather protect himself than get anyone involved with his "secret mission". Unfortunately for him, Emilia clings on to him at all times.

On the other hand, Alfred....his POV just went completely over my head. He is Team Nazi, yet there is something wrong with him in that he is completely out of it. His chapters are just mental letters about what he is doing (which is all a fantasy?) to a childhood friend (?). I personally did not like him at all, and he doesn't meet up with the other three characters until much later.

And this isn't all about the character development either, actually this is based off a real event that happened. Look, here is a real life photo, or picture, of the MV Wilhelm Gustloff.

It transported evacuees from Gotenhafen, including Joana, Emilia, and Florian! And Alfred too. He starts off on this ship after all. But yeah, this ship carried thousands of evacuees and military, much more than its capacity. It was just all so fascinating to read about, especially with the author's writing style. Salt to the Sea was a such an easy and fast read, I never got stuck or confused anywhere.

In conclusion, WHEN you read this, you'll learn a ton about this major event that happened during the actual war, you'll meet wonderful characters, you'll also have your heart broken by the end of it, but you'll also encounter hope.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Guest Post: World War II TBR

For today, I am happy to introduce, Grace @ Rebel Mommy Book Blog, who will be talking about her WWII TBR! I have actually read all of these books, and I will admit, they are all fantastic. Also as a reminder, you can comment on this post, follow Grace via Twitter and Bloglovin, and have that all count towards entries in the event's giveaway!

If you asked me at the beginning of last year or before that, I would tell you that I didn’t read or enjoy historical fiction. I had no interest in it. Until I did. From The Nightingale, to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society to Unbroken I was totally taken with setting of World War II. There are so many stories to be told from that time and now I want to read them all! But for now these six are on my immediate TBR.

Have you read any of these? Which WWII books are on your TBR?

Grace loves books and really just wants to talk (or type if we are getting technical) about them. Her preferred reads are contemporary fiction, chick lit, new adult and young adult (and sometimes paranormal romance on occasion). When she is not reading, she is either watching TV or listening to EW radio talk about TV on SiriusXM. You can also find her at  Rebel Mommy Book Blog.

Monday, February 15, 2016

An Introduction To A Wonderful Two Weeks Of WWII

I don't know if you all know by now, but Ely @ Tea & Titles and I have spent a lot of time planning and working on this event, and even then we couldn't get everything we wanted in (due to traveling, working, classes, etc.) BUT, even with saying that, I can say that this will definitely be a success. You know why? Because I love learning about WWII. I love featuring books about WWII. I love movies about WWII. And above all, I love it when others love WWII as well. Which you will definitely see a lot of during the next two weeks.

You may ask why I am hosting such an event. And why this entire thing is based off of Anne Frank. First off, I really enjoyed Anne's story. When I read The Diary of A Young Girl, she really touched my heart. Throughout her hiding, she grew as a woman, discovering her voice and herself, especially as a writer. And this is no spoiler, but it is devastating to see it all end for her so suddenly. Her life was tragically cut short.

Therefore, my reasoning for loving the stories of WWII so much is, to sum it up, the feels. I'm often touched by characters in WWII fiction, they sacrifice so much to survive or protect the ones they love. It's heartbreaking, but a good kind of heartbreak. One that makes you think and reflect, especially when some of these stories may not have been so fictional.

So with that, I really hope you end up enjoying the posts I have planned! There will be reviews, WWII lists, giveaways, movie reviews, recommendations, all featured by some amazing bloggers that have helped out with the event, by me, and also by Ely. These will be taking place both on my blog, and also Ely's blog. So please, if you love WWII as much as all of us, feel free to check out all the posts!

There will be a US/International giveaway which will be running throughout the event. Since I am opening it up internationally, the giveaway will have multiple winners! If you are one of the five winners, you will be sent one of these five books! (So the first winner will get to choose, the second will get to choose from what's remaining, the third, and so on)

Here it is! Sorry it is so incredibly long, I hope you find some new blogs from this :)

Lastly, there will be a hashtag #AnnexEntries on Twitter to let you browse all the posts! 

And with that, I hope you enjoy what's to come!
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