Wow. The Light in Hidden Places by Sharon Cameron… what an incredible story. This novel is based on the heroic true story of sisters Stefania and little Helena Podgórska. They were young and alone in German occupied Przemyœl, Poland. With what little they had, they bravely decided to aid Jewish people in a time when that meant certain death. I want to try to avoid spoiling too much of the story in case you’re like me, and prefer to see the story unfold as you go. If you are like this, I would also suggest avoiding the synopsis, seeing as it is essentially an outline of the entire novel. I will however say that this book is extremely interesting, enjoyable, and worthwhile, and I simply couldn’t put it down. There are so many stories, like this one, of bravery during WWII surrounding The Holocaust that deserve to be told, and I was so glad that I was able to experience this one. This novel was incredibly inspiring and I would very highly recommend it to any fellow reader.
Category Archives: TBC Favorites
The Power by Naomi Alderman
Let me preface this review by saying that this is not a YA book. However, as an older teen, I think that it is a perfect book for someone transitioning out of YA, as I myself am. It must also be said that it has trigger warnings for violence and sexual assault. If these statements do not exclude you from potential readership, please do read this book. The Power by Naomi Alderman is epic, terrifying, unflinchingly honest and utterly brilliant. I am of the firm opinion that it should be read by everyone.
Let’s rewind a little. The premise is simple: one day, girls and young women start exhibiting the strange new ability to generate shocks like electric eels. These girls are able to wake up the same power in older women (there is a scientific explanation for this, so the book falls firmly into sci-fi rather than fantasy). Suddenly, with women holding an inherent biological advantage over men, the balance of power in the world shifts. It starts slow, a woman winning an important election in America, a new branch of religion with the Holy Mother at its center growing in popularity from South Carolina. It spreads and strengthens from there. Revolutions are built off of women banding together to use their newfound power to change the world they live in. But what starts off as a fight for equality, for autonomy, soon tips too far.
The Power follows four point of view characters, Margot, an American politician; Roxy, the illegitimate daughter of a British crime boss; Allie, a foster care kid turned religious leader who hears a voice a la Joan of Arc; and Tunde, an aspiring photojournalist who captures one of the first scrap of footage of the power being used. Together, the four protagonists— I hesitate to call any of them heroes— let the reader follow the slow progression of different parts of society as the world changes. The characters themselves have amazing development— although admittedly not always for the better. While some of the characters develop into what you might call heroes, others continue past that, and change from victims to heroes to oppressors. The hard part is that you care about all of them, even as you are horrified by their actions, and herein lies Alderman’s strength: she writes about humanity. She writes flawed, complicated, scarred characters that you care about because they feel inherently real, even if sometimes you can’t like them as people. But she also understands the relationships between those people, the different dynamics in groups and cultures and as a result, her book feels terrifyingly plausible.
If that wasn’t enough, it is also an excellent novel. The Power is often compared to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, but I would argue that Alderman’s book is superior, for the simple reason that it is more easily readable. I personally think that Handmaid’s Tale, while an important book and a fascinating culture study, wasn’t written in a way that people could read it easily, especially those who don’t read very much. The plot was meandering, the main character was complacent, and her understanding of the world was negligible. While I understand while Atwood chose to write it as she did, I was simply not invested in the story other than academically. The Power, however had an engaging plot, captivating characters, and an excellent study of the world we live in today.
One of Us is Next by Karen McManus
I went into One of Us is Next with high hopes, but still, I didn’t expect to like it as much as I liked One of Us is Lying (book one). In the end, I think that I liked the sequel even better thanthe debut hit. With a caveat. If you are looking for a fast paced thriller, then this isn’t for you. However, if like me you enjoy a slower, more introspective story that tends toward looking at motives and relationships rather mostly clues, this is the book for you. This is not to say that it is devpid of suspense— simply that it is not a major element of the book untilt he final third.
In book one we followed the Bayview Four, as they came to be called, but One of Us is Next revolves around an almost entirely new set of characters. Almost, because one third of the trio that make up our POV characters is Maeve, Bronwyn’s little sister who was instrumental to the wrapup of the first book. The other two are Knox, Maeve’s former boyfriend and current best friend, and another girl, Phoebe. Still, McManus manages to create a new cast of characters, that intersects with our old ones (who have matured off page, but still feel organic and right).
Ever since the exoneration of the Bayview Four, copycat gossip blogs and apps have been popping up at Bayview high, although none have managed to get a foothold. Until now. But when the students of Bayview get a collective text, it isn’t a juicy piece of gossip— it’s a game. Here’s how it works: one student gets a text, and they have twenty-four hours to choose, Truth or Dare. Pick dare and you get a task and fourty-eight hours to complete it (and document it), pick Truth— or don’t pick at all, and you get one of your secrets revealed to the entire school. Phoebe is first, and she elects to ignore it. After all, the only secret that could hurt her— well, no one could know that. Except, somebody does. And they tell the entire school. With one text, Phoebe’s life (already half in ruins after the death of her father) is upeneded, and she is just the opening act. After Phoebe’s worst secret is revealed, and her life upended, everyone knows to choose Dare. Except Maeve, who wants no part of it. But when Maeve refuses to choose, she’s not the one who pays the price.
After two terrible truths, who wouldn’t pick dare? But after Bayview is shaken by a second death, the game stops. But the question remains, who was playing that terrible game with them? And was the death of that student just a tragic accident, or is there something else going on? Pairing her excellent character building with a captivating new mystery and a powerful critisism of gendered roles and sexual pressures on teens, McManus has written a sequel that more than lives up to its predecessor.
House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig
Oh My Gosh!!! I am still not over how obsessively good this book is. Besides being a retelling of the “Twelve Dancing Princesses” – A classic fairytale by the Grimm brothers in which twelve sisters, each more beautiful than the last, dance all night, wearing out their shoes by morning despite being securely locked up in their room by their father – this book is a whole new outlook to the plot with gruesomely horrifying twists and turns, mind games that’ll keep the mind churning, and illustrations that will make your bones chill to the core.
Annaleigh, the fifth oldest among twelve sisters, is now second in line to her father’s inheritance after the deaths of her older sisters – four consecutive deaths, one after the other – the most recent being Eulalie, who plunged to her death from a cliff, when (as rumor has it) she was running off to elope with her lover. However, Annaleigh does not believe that her family is cursed – as believed by the townspeople – but acts of murder by someone who is out to eliminate her and her sisters, one by one. But who? On top of that, the sisters end up discovering a magic door that transports them to wherever they wish to go, allowing them to attend lavish balls and dance with handsome men till their shoes wear out.
When things start to get out of control, with the girls addicted to sneaking out and dancing till sunrise and having no clue on how to find the killer who, as it seems, is now after Annaleigh herself – Annaleigh is just about losing her mind, or so it seems… However, there seems to be a lot of, “Is this real, or not” going in. Determined to find the killer of her sisters, Annaleigh will
do anything to protect and prevent any more of her sisters from sharing the same fate, even at the cost of her own sanity!
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
When BeiTech, a powerful corporation in a futuristic, space traversing society, attacked an illegal mining colony run by one of their competitors, the lives of the colonists were irrevocably destroyed. Thousands died, and those who managed to escape are being pursued by the remainder of their attackers, who plan to destroy any who might reveal the atrocities they commited. Kady and Ezra, newly exes, were finishing high school when the attack came. They lost everything that day, and now, licking their wounds, are pursued by the very people who tried to kill them the first time, all they have left is each other.
Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman’s Illuminae is not like anything I’ve ever read. In fairness, I don’t read much in the way of space operas, so I may simply not have much to compare it to. The genre is generally too overpopulated for my tastes with leather-clad protagonists (you’d think styles would have changed in a few centuries) shooting blasters at a strangely uniformly humanoid collection of aliens (seriously, can we get, like, a highly evolved society of blue space bats that communicate using bioluminescence? Or just something instead of green humans? Thanks.)
But while Illuminae does employ many of the genre’s tropes, it does so in a unique way. Giant spaceships? Sure, but not all of them are battlecruisers or have guns (I mean… some of them are.) Ability to do jumps from one place to another within the galaxy? Of course! But only the huge, expensive ships have the technology to make them. Hot, intelligent hero on a mission, accompanied by an equally hot sharpshooter with a dark past? Check! But she isn’t particularly interested in the greater good (I mean, she is a bit, she is the hero after all…) and her love interest is less tall dark and broody than he is a loveable doofus with the texting grammar and etiquette of every teenager in your contacts.
Illuminae combines sci-fi and horror in an addicting story told not in the traditional methods of storytelling, but in a hodgepodge compilation of stolen documents. Everything from ship’s logs, to casualty reports, to text messages, are employed to tell the tale. The result is a riveting book that, despite depriving the reader of a deeper understanding of the characters’ states of mind, allows for a wider picture of the situation. The inclusion of official documents and communications gives the reader a sense that the book chronicles real events, and the text messages between the two main characters, Kady and Ezra, endears the protagonists to the reader and thus makes us care when they and others are in danger. I highly recommend this book, and urge you to get it as a hardcopy. I think any other format just couldn’t do it justice.
With the Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo
WARNING: I am going to be talking in terms of food, and everything related to cooking in this review. Otherwise, I wouldn’t really be giving this book full justice.
This book is a pot full of love, family, high school, and one barely 18, teenage mom – stir in a 3-4 spoonfuls of drama, choices between reality and passion, family (plus, daddy) issues, and maybe a teaspoon of boy trouble – you’ve got yourself the recipe that will have you devouring each and every page.
Helpful Tip: Have a snack ready on the side, before reading. It’ll save you from the dire need to get up and grab something to eat from the very first page – I guarantee it.
Emoni Santiago is a mixed-race, high school senior, and the mother of a three-year-old daughter (baby girl A.K.A. Emma), and lives with her ‘Buela. She’s a sweet girl, with a slightly tough and rough side, due to all that she’s had to endure from a very young age, yet tries her best to be kind to those around her. It’s her maturity to deal with the situations she goes through at her age, and her patience throughout it that grabs a reader’s interest fairly early on – especially teenagers. But her talent is what really seeks one’s attention – her love, passion, and skill of cooking the most
delicious food, that had characters end up crying in the book, and will definitely have the reader’s mouth-watering, for sure.
The plot is simple, with Emoni figuring out what she wants to do with her life, with high school coming to an end, while considering all the factors in her life – money, her daughter, her passion. When a new culinary class is added to the curriculum, of course, she has to join it, if only to indulge in more of what she loves, but a trip to Spain, which is part of the class has her having second thoughts, bearing in mind all her financial crises. The chef in her and her determination is frequently tested within the book and has readers waiting patiently (like waiting for cookies in the oven) for the outcomes.
The characters are all diverse and blend in wonderfully with the story. From Emoni’s best friend, Angelica – a lesbian, who will have you appreciate the power of women’s sorority – to the new dimpled boy in her homeroom, Malachi – whose smile has girls tripping on there feet, and will be the turning point of Emoni’s perspective/ attitude towards the male species (slowly, but surely). And let’s not forget her family – her grandmother, with whom she shares a close relationship, especially since she’s the one who raised her; her father, who isn’t around much, giving us glimpses into all those daddy issues; and of course her daughter, baby girl A.K.A. Emma, who is Emoni’s escape (aside from cooking) from all that’s going on around her – she sprinkles in just the right amount of cuteness this book needs.
The small-ish chapters make it easy to move from to another, not wanting to put the book down and will have you wanting to read ‘just one more chapter’ till the last page.
A Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson
“For these were not ordinary books the libraries kept. They were knowledge, given life. Wisdom, given voice. They sang when starlight streamed through the library’s windows. They felt pain and suffered heartbreak. Sometimes they were sinister, grotesque–but so was the world outside. And that made the world no less worth fighting for, because wherever there was darkness, there was also so much light.”
MAGICAL. BOOKS. Has there ever been a more perfect book for bookworms?
What can be better than being raised in a library – in a world full of magic and sorcerers. A world where books (or grimoires ), not only talk and sing but can also turn into demons or as they’re fondly called Maleficits. And Elizabeth – our clumsy, yet fiercely brave protagonist – lives just that life (lucky her).
Elizabeth just wants to become a warden in the library where she’s lived her whole life and stay as far away from sorcery as she can. But when the director is killed and she’s accused of being behind it, despite being guiltless, she is sent off to the city where an act of heroism (or so she thought) by her, spins her into a web of dark magic, demons, and a mission with her world and everyone she loves at stake. Add in a handsome, witty sorcerer named Nathaniel Thorn and his yellow-eyed servant/sidekick/best friend Silas – it’s a rollercoaster ride full of romance, humor, and a whole lot of trying to keep out and away from magic and trouble, but failing miserably at it.
Albeit a slow start, the book quickly has you hooked. The writing is top-notch. The plot, the wonderfully developed characters, the beautiful and magical illustrations – will have you wanting to jump into the book then and there. This book is a must read for fans of Harry Potter and Septimus Heap .
Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi
You know that book that you’ve been meaning to get for a long, long time because a friend recommended it, or it’s on the New York Times Bestseller list or you read the blurb on the back in passing and it looked good? The one that you always look at in the bookstore and think, “I’ll get it next time,” but this time you saw a shiny cover and got distracted and ended up buying that one instead? Yet when you finally do pick it up it becomes one of your absolute favorites? For the past few months Emergency Contact has been that book for me, and I finally got around to reading it. Then I smacked myself in the face with said book for waiting as long as I did.
Mary H.K. Choi is one of those rare authors that just gets their readers mentally, emotionally and culturally. From the first few chapters I was hooked. I immediately liked the main characters (it is a dual perspective book) both as characters and people, and as the book continued I kept liking them. The supporting characters as well were well written and fleshed out, to the point that you got a sense of who they were and why they were doing what they were. Even the ex girlfriend of the male lead, who traditionally is a very unlikable character type was portrayed as a person who, yes, was a bit callous and clueless about how she was hurting Sam (the male lead), but wasn’t really a bad person. All of the characters were written as real people who made mistakes and stupid decisions, but in the end were doing their best.
The plot centers around the relationship between Penny, a freshman at UT, and Sam, a relative of her roommate who works at a nearby cafe (this book is literally that perfect coffee shop AU that you’ve been looking for). Both Sam and Penny have anxiety but find it easy to talk to one another— via text that is— and soon become close. However, while the story revolves mainly around Penny and Sam’s friendship, Choi is only too happy to dive into everything from the two’s relationships with their respective parents, their friends, significant others, to Penny’s struggles and triumphs in her creative writing course and the reality of growing up in a low income family.
All said, Emergency Contact is a fantastic book with great writing, wonderful characters and a plot that will make you alternately laugh and cry.
What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera
What if it’s Us, by Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli, is magical. It tells the story of Arthur, a high school student who lives in Georgia but is spending the summer as an intern in New York, and Ben, a New York native spending the summer in summer school. Their sweet, romantic-movie meetup is incredible. Neither of them can believe it. Somehow, in the chaos of the huge city, the universe managed to put them together in the same place, at the same time. They knew they had to make the universe’s wishes come true. Their desperation to find each other is adorable and admirable. Everyone is rooting for them, and the lead up is amazing. This story is two boys, finding love and a perfect summer in the magic of New York.
Silvera and Albertalli write this book with familiar and comfortable characters. They feel so real and relatable, making them even more lovable. Every character is unique; every interaction special. There are laugh-out-loud moments, and serious moments, and very romantic moments. Everything an amazing story needs. This book makes everyone believe in love. All different kinds of love. It is about taking chances, and do-overs, and forgiveness. A great story for anyone and anytime.
Shiver by Maggie Steivater
Romeo & Juliet meets Twilight in the woods of New England.
Grace was saved from a wolf attack by one of its own when she was a child. After watching each other from a distance for years, she and the wolf are reunited when a local teen is attacked. Grace’s wolf is injured and appears as a human on her doorstep. Grace’s alienation from her parents sets the stage for this romantic mystery that will have besotted readers carrying the book everywhere, hoping to sneak in just one more chapter.
Readers who enjoy a little paranormal enhancement in their narratives will love this gripping spin on doomed love as told from different characters viewpoints. The characters are complex and relatable and it seems appropriate to root for the wolves who somehow seem to normally live among us.
Shiver is still one of the first books I think of when someone asks me for a book recommendation with adventure and romance. My daughter and I raced through the series together and have since devoured the rest of Maggie Stiefvater’s offerings. Shiver is the first of its Trilogy but Stiefvater has another series, The Raven Cycle, and stand alone titles, The Scorpio Races and All the Crooked Saints. The different series and stand alones are quite distinct in subject matter from each other but I loved them all!