Favorite Reads of 2017

Ah! New year, new books!

New reading challenges, new debuts releasing, exciting sequels we’ve been waiting FOREVER for, all to add to our ever-growing beloved TBR piles.

What’s a reader to dive into first?

Before we get too caught up in all the shiny new books coming out this year, or just in case you’re looking for some great reads to help you survive until that to-die-for sequel FINALLY arrives, here are some of my favorites from last year, in no particular order.

THE YOUNG ELITES Series by Marie Lu

 

 

 

 

I’ve been dying to read this series ever since I met Marie Lu last summer and received my signed copy of the first book. I absolutely loved her LEGENDS series and couldn’t wait for more. She didn’t disappoint! Adelina is such a fascinating, complex character, and a baddie you’ll love to route for. I thoroughly enjoyed living vicariously through her for awhile. The complex relationships that don’t all turn out the way you think they will (or dare I say, hope they will?) add so many delicious layers to this wonderful series. I couldn’t read fast enough! And those gorgeous covers, ah! Love them.

Plot summary for THE YOUNG ELITES:

Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

Learn more about Marie Lu here.

Follow Marie on Twitter here.

Follow Marie on Facebook here.

Follow Marie on Instagram here.

 

BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson

browngirldreaming-4medals-3001I don’t think any more awards could fit on the cover of this book. Still, I was struck by the title. I was transported by the imagery and moved by the emotions they evoked. Beautiful book.

Raised in South Carolina and New York, I always felt halfway home in each place. In these poems, I share what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and my growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement.

It also reflects the joy of finding my voice through writing stories, despite the fact that I struggled with reading as a child. My love of stories inspired and stayed with me, creating the first sparks of the writer I was to become.

WHERE IT TAKES PLACE:

Columbus, Ohio, Greenville, South Carolina and Brooklyn, New York

WHERE I WROTE IT:

In all of those places but mostly in Brooklyn.

WHY I WROTE IT:

I wanted to understand who my mom was before she was my mother and I wanted to understand exactly how I became a writer. So I started researching my life, asking relatives and talking to friends – and mostly, just letting myself remember. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Jacqueline Woodson here.

Follow Jacqueline on Twitter here.

Follow Jacqueline on Facebook here.

 

DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy

Loved everything about this book! Willowdean is amazing and I wish I’d had her confidence when I was younger. Face what scares you head on and throw in a dance number! Honestly, what’s not to love? Cue “Jolene” on repeat.

Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American-beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Julie Murphy here.

Follow Julie on Twitter here.

Follow Julie on Tumblr here.

Follow Julie on Instagram here.

Follow Julie on YouTube here.

 

SIX OF CROWS Duology by Leigh Bardugo

 

 

 

 

I enjoyed Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy and I was thrilled to return to her Grishaverse in this new storyline. The characters were exciting and so dynamic. I loved the Kaz/Inej relationship – so different, so touching and painfully strained. Great adventure tale that I ripped through in record time. And did I mention the gorgeous design? Red and black pages. And those covers! I’m a sucker for great design.

It inspired me to reread the original Grisha series. I’m sure I’ll reread these stories again soon.

Plot summary for SIX OF CROWS:

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price–and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

Learn more about Leigh Bardugo here.

Follow Leigh on Twitter here.

Follow Leigh on Tumblr here.

Follow Leigh on Facebook here.

 

THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH by Martha Brockenbrough

I  met the beguiling Ms. Brockenbrough at last year’s SCBWI LA summer conference where I got her book signed and I’ve been dying to read this ever since. It did not disappoint. I absolutely loved the premise and her characters were just divine. Loved it so much, I did a full post on it. Read full discussion here.

ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA. HELEN OF TROY AND PARIS. ROMEO AND JULIET. AND NOW . . . HENRY AND FLORA.

For centuries Love and Death have chosen their players. They have set the rules, rolled the dice, and kept close, ready to influence, angling for supremacy. And Death has always won. Always.

Could there ever be one time, one place, one pair whose love would truly tip the balance?

Meet Flora Saudade, an African-American girl who dreams of becoming the next Amelia Earhart by day and sings in the smoky jazz clubs of Seattle by night. Meet Henry Bishop, born a few blocks and a million worlds away, a white boy with his future assured — a wealthy adoptive family in the midst of the Great Depression, a college scholarship, and all the opportunities in the world seemingly available to him.

The players have been chosen. The dice have been rolled. But when human beings make moves of their own, what happens next is anyone’s guess.

Achingly romantic and brilliantly imagined, The Game of Love and Death is a love story you will never forget. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Martha Brockenbrough here.

Follow Martha on Twitter here.

Follow Martha on Facebook here.

Follow Martha on Tumblr here.

 

BONE GAP by Laura Ruby

My SCBWI OK group read this for their monthly book club. Although I couldn’t attend, I still wanted to read along. Wow. What a fascinating story! I loved the way she used magical realism – so well done. I loved the idea of a town full of gaps where people could just disappear, slip through.

The twist of the main character was so interesting, I didn’t see it coming. Loved it.

Everyone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps—gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza went missing, the people of Bone Gap weren’t surprised. After all, it wasn’t the first time that someone had slipped away and left Finn and Sean O’Sullivan on their own. Just a few years before, their mother had high-tailed it to Oregon for a brand new guy, a brand new life. That’s just how things go, the people said. Who are you going to blame?

Finn knows that’s not what happened with Roza. He knows she was kidnapped, ripped from the cornfields by a dangerous man whose face he cannot remember. But the searches turned up nothing, and no one believes him anymore. Not even Sean, who has more reason to find Roza than anyone, and every reason to blame Finn for letting her go.

As we follow the stories of Finn, Roza, and the people of Bone Gap—their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures—acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness—a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Laura Ruby here.

Follow Laura on Twitter here.

Follow Laura on Facebook here.

Follow Laura on Tumblr here.

 

THE WALLS AROUND US by Nova Ren Suma

I read this ahead of the SCBWI LA summer conference because Nova Ren Suma was one of the speakers. WOW! This book! So amazing! It was surreal and dark and twisty in the best ways.

And Her breakout session on Unreliable Narrators? Outstanding! I can’t wait to get to my manuscript with a certain unreliable character, now. Huge fan for life!

On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement.

On the inside, within the walls of the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom.

Tying their two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries…

What really happened on the night Orianna stepped between Violet and her tormentors? What really happened on two strange nights at Aurora Hills? Will Amber and Violet and Orianna ever get the justice they deserve—in this life or in another one?

In prose that sings from line to line, Nova Ren Suma tells a supernatural tale of guilt and of innocence, and of what happens when one is mistaken for the other. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Learn more about Nova Ren Suma here.

Follow Nova on Twitter here.

Follow Nova on Facebook here.

Follow Nova on Tumblr here.

Follow Nova on Instagram here.

 

I CRAWL THROUGH IT by A.S. King

So fantastic. A unique experience – like walking into a Dali painting and being able to speak the language of the inhabitants.

Fabulous King at her best.

Four accomplished teenagers are on the verge of explosion. The anxieties they face at every turn have nearly pushed them to the point of surrender: senseless high-stakes testing, the lingering damage of trauma, the buried grief and guilt of tragic loss. They are desperate to cope—but no one is listening.

So they will lie. They will split in two. They will turn inside out. They will build an invisible helicopter to fly themselves far away from the pressure…but nothing releases the pressure. Because, as they discover, the only way to truly escape their world is to fly right into it.

The genius of acclaimed author A.S. King reaches new heights in this groundbreaking work of surrealist fiction; it will mesmerize readers with its deeply affecting exploration of how we crawl through traumatic experience—and find the way out. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about A.S. King here.

Follow A.S. King on Twitter here.

Follow A.S. King on Facebook here.

Follow A.S. King on Instagram here.

 

THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander

Nothing but net. So good! Couldn’t put it down until I reached the end. I picked up this book while in LA at the SCBWI Summer conference and had the pleasure of hearing Kwame Alexander recite some of his poetry. He makes it come alive and breathe like a living thing. It’s amazing. This book read just like that.

“With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering,” announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he’s got mad beats, too, that tell his family’s story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood from Kwame Alexander (He Said, She Said 2013).

Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story’s heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Learn more about Kwame Alexander here.

Follow Kwame on Facebook here.

Follow Kwame on Twitter here.

Follow Kwame on Instagram here.

 

THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE (#1), THE WAR I FINALLY WON (#2) by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

 

 

 

Beautiful, heart-wrenching, and just so touching. I’ve always wanted to know more about the kids who were evacuated during the war. Ada, what a kid after my own heart – fantastic character! This is the perfect story for that. Loved this book! And the sequel!

Plot summary of THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE:

Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.

So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?

Learn more about Kimberly Brubaker Bradley here.

Follow Kimberly on Twitter here.

 

DREAMLAND BURNING by Jennifer Latham

Fantastic storytelling. Absolutely loved it! As a Tulsan, also appreciated this part of our history being told so thoughtfully.

Some bodies won’t stay buried. Some stories need to be told.

When seventeen-year-old Rowan Chase finds a skeleton on her family’s property, she has no idea that investigating the brutal century-old murder will lead to a summer of painful discoveries about the past, the present, and herself.

One hundred years earlier, a single violent encounter propels seventeen-year-old Will Tillman into a racial firestorm. In a country rife with violence against blacks and a hometown segregated by Jim Crow, Will must make hard choices on a painful journey towards self discovery and face his inner demons in order to do what’s right the night Tulsa burns. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Learn more about Jennifer Latham here.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter here.

Follow Jennifer on Facebook here.

 

THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas

Brilliant. Powerful storytelling.

One of my favorite reads this year by far. Absolutely loved Starr and her whole family. Such wonderful characters.

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

 

Learn more about Angie Thomas here.

Follow Angie on Facebook here.

Follow Angie on Twitter here.

Follow Angie on Instagram here.

 

What were YOUR favorite reads of 2017?

What are you looking forward to reading this year?

The Relaxed & Groovy Book Club – THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH

 

Relaxed & Groovy Book Club

Welcome to the summer session of the Relaxed & Groovy Book Club.  We’re having one each quarter and instead of revisiting a favorite read from the past, I’m reading a book for the first time right along with you.

This selection is from an author I’ve never read before – always exciting! I met the beguiling Ms. Brockenbrough at the SCBWI LA conference last summer and have been looking forward to reading her book ever since. It’s a book well worth reading.

Current Relaxed & Groovy Book Club selection:

THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH by Martha Brockenbrough

Published by: Arthur A Levine Books

Release Date: April 28, 2015

Genres: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy

indieboundamazonbn-24h-80

 

 

Plot Summary:

ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA. HELEN OF TROY AND PARIS. ROMEO AND JULIET. AND NOW . . . HENRY AND FLORA.

For centuries Love and Death have chosen their players. They have set the rules, rolled the dice, and kept close, ready to influence, angling for supremacy. And Death has always won. Always.

Could there ever be one time, one place, one pair whose love would truly tip the balance?

Meet Flora Saudade, an African-American girl who dreams of becoming the next Amelia Earhart by day and sings in the smoky jazz clubs of Seattle by night. Meet Henry Bishop, born a few blocks and a million worlds away, a white boy with his future assured — a wealthy adoptive family in the midst of the Great Depression, a college scholarship, and all the opportunities in the world seemingly available to him.

The players have been chosen. The dice have been rolled. But when human beings make moves of their own, what happens next is anyone’s guess.

Achingly romantic and brilliantly imagined, The Game of Love and Death is a love story you will never forget. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Martha Brockenbrough here.

Follow Martha on Twitter here.

Follow Martha on Facebook here.

Follow Martha on Tumblr here.

 

It’s hard enough being in love without immortal forces interfering or outright plotting against you, especially when you have no idea it’s even happening. Their subtle moves shape your life views and change small steps that might have made big changes in your life you’ll never know about. Such a fascinating premise for this story.

Here’s a look at the first chapter:

Chapter 1

Friday, February 13, 1920

     The figure in the fine gray suit materialized in the nursery and stood over the sleeping infant, inhaling the sweet, milky night air. He could have taken any form, really; a sparrow, a snowy owl, even a common housefly. Although, he often traveled the world on wings, for this work he always preferred a human guise.

     Standing beneath a leaded glass window, the visitor, who was known as Love, removed a small, pearl-headed pin from his tie and pricked his his finger. A bead of blood rose and caught the reflection of the slice of moon that hung low in the late winter sky. He bent over the cradle and slid his bleeding fingertip into the child’s mouth. The baby, a boy, tried to suckle, his forehead wrinkling, his small hands curling into fists.

    After a time, Love slipped his finger out of the boy’s mouth, satisfied that the blood had given the boy a steady heart. He replaced his pin and regarded the child. He removed a book from his pocket, scribbled a few lines, and tucked it away again. When he could stay no longer, he uttered two words, as softly as a prayer: “Have courage.”

———————————————————————

The next night, in a small green house across town, his opponent made her choice. In this house, there was no leaded glass in the windows. No gracious nursery, no wrought-iron crib. The child was a girl. A girl who slept in an apple crate – happily so, for she did not yet know of anything else.

     In the house’s other bedroom, the child’s grandmother slept lightly, listening from some ever-alert corner of her mind for the sounds that would indicate the child’s parents had returned home: the creak of a door, the whisper of voices, the careful pad of tiptoeing feet.

     The old woman would wait forever to hear those sounds again.

     Wearing a pair of soft leather gloves, Love’s opponent, known as Death, reached for the child, who woke and blinked sleepily at the unfamiliar face overhead. To Death’s relief, the baby did not cry. Instead, she looked at her with wonder. Death held a candle near so the child might have a better view. The baby blinked twice, smiled, and reached for the flame.

     Pleased, Death set the candle down, held the baby close to her chest, and walked to the uncovered window, which revealed a whitened world glowing beneath a silver flannel sky. She and the baby watched the snow fall together. At last, the child fell asleep in her arms.

     Death concentrated on her essential task, relieved when she at last felt the telltale pressure behind her eyes. After much effort, a single black tear gathered in her lashes. Death removed her glove with her teeth. It made hardly any noise as it hit the floor. With her index finger, Death lifted the tear.

     She held her fingertip over the baby’s clean, warm forehead. Slowly, carefully, she wrote directly on the child’s flesh a word that would be invisible. But this word would have power over the child, and later the woman she would become. It would teach her, shape her. Its letters, seven of them, gleamed in the candlelight.

     Someday.

     She whispered this into the baby’s ear:

     Someday, everyone you love will die. Everything you love will crumble to ruin. This is the price of life. This is the price of love. It is the only ending for every true story.

     The letters sank into the infant’s dusky skin and vanished as if they’d never been there at all.

    Death put the baby down, removed her other glove, and left the pair of them on the floor, where they would be discovered by the baby’s grandmother and mistaken for something else. The gloves would be the only things she would give the girl, though there was much she had taken already, and more she would take in the years to come.

———————————————————————

     For the next seventeen years, Love and Death watched their players. Watched and waited for the Game to begin.

 

I was hooked from the opening. And I found myself rooting for the two wee babes, who grew up to be very intriguing, complex characters, hoping they’d find a way to beat the odds and defy the influence of Love and Death and forge their own path.

How about you? Did this opening grab you from the start or did you need more to get invested in the story?

The Discussion:

Flora and Henry, our “players”, both have really big dreams that they are very determined to achieve. Flora wants to be the next Amelia Earhart, and even though she’d rather earn a living flying, without serious sponsorship money – rarely given to women, yet alone a colored woman – she must spend her evenings singing at Domino’s.  Henry loves the connection, the rhythm, of baseball and is good enough that he received a full scholarship to the all-boys preparatory academy, which could lead to a college scholarship and a bright future. If only he could keep his focus on his studies and off of music, his real love.

Things really get interesting when their worlds collide, and then Henry hears Flora sing for the first time.

Here’s the scene where Henry has convinced Ethan, his foster brother, to go with him to Flora’s nightclub, The Domino, on the pretext of writing a story  for Ethan’s father’s newspaper, about Flora, the girl pilot they met earlier that day:

   On the far side rose a stage flanked by red velvet curtains and pearly lights. Everything had seen better days, to be sure. But it was the biggest, brightest thing Henry could remember since before the Crash, and for a moment, he almost felt as if he were back in that old world, the one he’d lived in with his family before the influenza took his mother and sister, before his father…Henry stopped the thought in its tracks. Now wasn’t the time.

   A group of musicians stood on one side of the stage, and the drummer kicked off a new song. Center stage, stepping down a wide white staircase and curving handrails, was Flora, looking paradoxically the same and yet so different from the way she looked on the airstrip. She smiled as she walked, but it was clear she couldn’t care less about the audience clapping and hooting on the floor below. A spotlight pinned her in front of a nickel-plated microphone.

     “Something wrong?” Ethan said. “Don’t tell me you’ve come to your senses.”

     “It’s not that. I just -” Henry shook his head. “The singer.”

     “Not that it matters, but she’s not bad-looking out of that canvas getup,” Ethan said. “I’ll grant you that. Even if her dress looks like something that was in style twenty years ago.”

     Henry didn’t care about the dress. It looked fine to him. More than fine.

     Flora opened her mouth to sing and Henry swallowed hard. He’d never heard anything like her voice, which made him wish he had his bass in his hands, just so he could return the sounds, a mix of chocolate and cream, something he wanted to drink through his skin.

Once upon a time I dreamed

Of how my life would go…

     He recognized the song: “Walk Beside Me.” But her voice nailed him to the floor. It made him feel as though something had slipped under his skin and was easing everything nonessential straight from his bones.

     “Cigarette?” A blonde wearing a short red dress and a tray of Viceroys slung from a strap around her neck leaned in toward them, blocking Henry’s view.

On that day I saw you

It wasn’t love at first sight

But slowly, like a sunrise

You revealed your light

     Henry craned around her as Ethan waved the cigarette girl away. “Your kind always says no to mine,” she muttered as she left. The maître d’ approached holding menus.

     “Follow me, gentlemen,” he said. “It’s your lucky night, We have a table right up front by the dance floor.”

     Henry had heard “Walk Beside Me” many times on the wireless. But he had never heard it like this, slow and tender. And the accompanying music was nothing like the orderly, upright way the Ozzie Nelson Band played it. This was something unsettling here, something unpredictable, as if some set of rules, both written and unwritten, was being shattered like glass. The awareness of it dampened his forehead and made his blood sing, raising all the tiny hairs on his arms and the back of his neck.

     Flora moved on to the chorus.

I may have dreamed before you

Of how my life should be

The only thing I want now

Is for you to walk beside me

   Beneath her voice, a skinny young bass player plucked a steady rhythm, holding her on a sturdy web of notes. For some reason, Henry immediately hated the man, his mustache, his pompadour, his trim tuxedo, the way he looked at Flora as though she were a thing he owned. The music picked up a notch, taking Henry’s pulse with it as the song traveled back to the main melody, now with the full band. It was a conversation with a piano, a guitar, a saxophone, two trombones, and a pair of twins playing trumpets that turned the reflection of the chandeliers overhead into movable stars.

So Love’s player is on the hook, but will Death’s player forsake her goals and ambition for Henry?

As Henry visits the Domino almost every night, getting closer to Flora, neglecting his responsibilities and letting his grades suffer, putting his future college scholarships in jeopardy, we begin to see the effect the actions Love and Death have on each of the “players”. One side isn’t above shoving obstacles in the way to move the players in the direction that suits their outcome of the game even if that means causing them a great loss.

This is a beautiful story that will have you rooting for Henry and Flora (and maybe even against Love and Death) and have you thinking about the balance between love and self-sacrifice.

What wouldn’t you give up for love? Heavy question.

What did you think of the story?

 

Up next…

 Fall Relaxed & Groovy Book Club selection:

RAMONA BLUE by Julie Murphy

Published by: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Release Date: May 9, 2017

Genres: YA, Contemporary

indieboundamazonbn-24h-80

 

Plot Summary:

Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina changed her life forever.

Since then, it’s been Ramona and her family against the world. Standing over six feet tall with unmistakable blue hair, Ramona is sure of three things: she likes girls, she’s fiercely devoted to her family, and she knows she’s destined for something bigger than the trailer she calls home in Eulogy, Mississippi. But juggling multiple jobs, her flaky mom, and her well-meaning but ineffectual dad forces her to be the adult of the family.

Now, with her sister, Hattie, pregnant, responsibility weighs more heavily than ever.

The return of her childhood friend Freddie brings a welcome distraction. Ramona’s friendship with the former competitive swimmer picks up exactly where it left off, and soon he’s talked her into joining him for laps at the pool. But as Ramona falls in love with swimming, her feelings for Freddie begin to shift too, which is the last thing she expected.

With her growing affection for Freddie making her question her sexual identity, Ramona begins to wonder if perhaps she likes girls and guys or if this new attraction is just a fluke. Either way, Ramona will discover that, for her, life and love are more fluid than they seem. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Julie Murphy here.

Follow Julie on Twitter here.

Follow Julie on Tumblr here.

Follow Julie on Instagram here.

Follow Julie on YouTube here.

 

I’ve interviewed Ms. Murphy right here on this blog a few years ago and finally got to meet her in person during her Epic Reads tour for this book. Such a delightful person! While I’ve enjoyed reading her other books, like SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY and DUMPLIN’, she said this one took her the longest, and it’s because it’s a reflection of her inner self as much as DUMPLIN’ was a reflection of her outer self. Wow! Does that make me want to read it all the more!

We’ll reconvene this most relaxed and groovy of book clubs in the fall. (Tie-dyed tees and funky shoes optional, as always!)

Happy reading!

The Relaxed & Groovy Book Club – SALT TO THE SEA

 

Relaxed & Groovy Book Club

Welcome to the first discussion of the Relaxed & Groovy Book Club of this year! We’ll have one each quarter and instead of revisiting a favorite read from the past, I’ll be reading a book for the first time right along with you.

This first book is from an author with the most generous spirit and all the talent to make a reader lose themselves in any world she creates. I’ve been a huge fan ever since I read her debut novel BETWEEN SHADES OF GREY. I was lucky enough to hear her speak in person about her experience researching and then writing this story. It was gut-wrenching. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. She put all of that into her story, and let me tell you. It’s a book well worth reading.

So is her latest book. I won an advanced copy on Goodreads, which was awesome – free books, yay! (If you had my book habit you’d totally understand.) Even so, I would’ve bought this book myself if I hadn’t won it.

Current Relaxed & Groovy Book Club selection:

 

SALT TO THE SEA by Ruta Sepetys

Published by: Philomel

Release Date: February 2, 2016

Genres: YA, Historical Fiction

indieboundamazon

bn-24h-80

 

Plot Summary:

In 1945, World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, almost all of them with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer toward safety. Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.
A tribute to the people of Lithuania, Poland, and East Prussia, Ruta Sepetys unearths a shockingly little-known casualty of a gruesome war, and proves that humanity can prevail, even in the darkest of hours. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Ruta Sepetys here.

Follow Ruta on Twitter here.

Follow Ruta on Facebook here.

This is such a fascinating tale that grips you right from the opening pages. Sepetys has a way of finding different angles to shed light on familiar periods of history in enlightening and intriguing ways.

Here’s a look at the first chapter:

joana

      Guilt is a hunter.

My conscience mocked me, picking fights like a petulant

child.

It’s all your fault, the voice whispered.

      I quickened my pace and caught up with our small group. The Germans would march us off the field road if they found us. Roads were reserved for the military. Evacuation orders hadn’t been issued and anyone fleeing East Prussia was branded a deserter. But what did that matter? I became a deserter four years ago, when I fled from Lithuania.

      Lithuania.

      I had left in 1941. What was happening at home? Were the dreadful things whispered in the streets true?

      We approached a mound on the side of the road. The small boy in front of me whimpered and pointed. He had joined us two days prior, just wandered out of the forest alone and quietly began following us.

     “Hello, little one. How old are you?” I had asked.

      “Six,” he replied.

      “Who are you traveling with?”

      He paused and dropped his head. “My Omi.”

      I turned toward the woods to see if his grandmother had emerged. “Where is your Omi now?” I asked.

      The wandering boy looked up at me, his pale eyes wide. “She didn’t wake up.”

      So the little boy traveled with us, often drifting just slightly ahead or behind. And now he stood, pointing to a flap of dark wool beneath a meringue of snow.

      I waved the group onward and when everyone advanced I ran to the snow-covered heap. The wind lifted a layer of icy flakes revealing the dead blue face of a woman, probably in her twenties. Her mouth and eyes were hinged open, fixed in fear. I dug through her iced pockets, but they had already been picked. In the lining of her jacket I found her identification papers. I stuffed them in my coat to pass on to the Red Cross and dragged her body off the road and into the field. She was dead, frozen solid, but the thought of tanks rolling over her was more than I could bear.

      I ran back to the road and our group. The wandering boy stood in the center of the path, snow falling all around him.

      “She didn’t wake up either?” he asked quietly.

      I shook my head and took his mittened hand in mine.

      And then we both heard it in the distance.

      Bang.

Don’t you just love the imagery of “a flap of dark wool beneath a meringue of snow”? There are so many different ways she describes the winter weather, you feel it as you’re walking through the scene with the characters.

With this well-crafted story which not only creates vivid scenes that immerse you right into the bitter cold of Eastern Prussia in 1945, but shows you this world through the lives of four fascinating and complex characters, we not only get caught up in their struggles, but in the mystery that slowly draws them all together.

The Discussion:

The book is told from four points of view, each character with a different reason for fleeing from something. Three of them are crossing the open, dodging the Germans from one direction and the Soviets from another, trying to find safe passage out of the country on a ship, one doomed for tragedy. One is already on the ship, trying to avoid doing much of anything – hiding in plain sight.

Here’s the scene when the three crossing all come together for the first time:

florian

     Others had beaten us there. A teetering collection of weathered horse carts was tucked beyond the brush, a sober portrait of the trek toward freedom. I would have preferred an abandoned site, but knew I couldn’t continue. The Polish girl pulled at my sleeve.

     She stopped in the snow, staring at the possessions outside the barn, evaluating the contents and whom they might belong to. There was no evidence of military.

     “I think okay,” she said. We walked inside.

     A group of fifteen or twenty people sat huddled around a small fire. Their faces turned as I slipped in and stood near the door. Mothers, children, and elderly. All exhausted and broken. The Polish girl went straight to a vacant corner and sat down, wrapping her arms tightly around her chest. A young woman walked over to me.

     “Are you injured? I have medical training.”

     Her German was fluent, but not native. I didn’t answer. I didn’t need to speak to anyone.

     “Do you have any food to share?” she asked.

     What I had was no one’s business.

     “Does she have any food?” she asked, pointing to the Polish girl rocking in the corner. “Her eyes look a bit wild.”

     I spoke without looking at her. “She was in the forest. A Russian cornered her. She followed me here. She has a couple of potatoes. Now, leave me alone,” I said.

     The young woman winced at the mention of the Russian. She left my side and headed quickly toward the girl.

     I found a solitary spot away from the group and sat down. I lodged my pack against the barn wall and carefully reclined on it. It would be warmer if I sat near the fire with the others but I couldn’t risk it. No conversations.

     I ate a small piece of the sausage from the dead Russian and watched the young woman as she tried to speak with the girl from the forest. Others called out to her for help. She must have been a nurse. She looked a few years older than me. Pretty. Naturally pretty, the type that’s still attractive, even more so, when she’s filthy. Everyone in the barn was filthy. The stench of exertion, failed bladders, and most of all fear, stunk worse than any livestock. The nurse girl would have turned my head back in Königsberg.

     I closed my eyes. I didn’t want to look at the pretty girl. I needed to be able to kill her, kill them all, if I had to. My body begged for sleep but my mind warned me not to trust these people. I felt a nudge at my feet and opened my eyes.

     “You didn’t mention she was Polish,” said the nurse. “And the Russian?” she asked.

     “He’s taken care of,” I told her. “I need to sleep.”

     She knelt down beside me. I could barely hear her.

     “What you need is to show me that wound you’re trying to hide.”

Once they all come together on the ill-fated ship, you know their troubles are far from over. Intense and fast-paced, Septeys keeps you turning the pages to the end to find out what each of these characters is hiding and how they will survive, if they will survive. I loved the unique take on such an important period of history, brought to life in a brilliant way. I hope you enjoyed reading it, too.

So…what’s next?

 Next Relaxed & Groovy Book Club selection:

THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH by Martha Brockenbrough

Published by: Scholastic

Release Date: April 28, 2015

Genres: YA, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction

indieboundamazonbn-24h-80

 

Plot Summary:

ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA. HELEN OF TROY AND PARIS. ROMEO AND JULIET. AND NOW . . . HENRY AND FLORA.

For centuries Love and Death have chosen their players. They have set the rules, rolled the dice, and kept close, ready to influence, angling for supremacy. And Death has always won. Always.

Could there ever be one time, one place, one pair whose love would truly tip the balance?

Meet Flora Saudade, an African-American girl who dreams of becoming the next Amelia Earhart by day and sings in the smoky jazz clubs of Seattle by night. Meet Henry Bishop, born a few blocks and a million worlds away, a white boy with his future assured — a wealthy adoptive family in the midst of the Great Depression, a college scholarship, and all the opportunities in the world seemingly available to him.

The players have been chosen. The dice have been rolled. But when human beings make moves of their own, what happens next is anyone’s guess.

Achingly romantic and brilliantly imagined, The Game of Love and Death is a love story you will never forget. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Martha Brockenbrough here.

Follow Martha on Twitter here.

Follow Martha on Facebook here.

Follow Martha on Tumblr here.

 

I met the beguiling Ms. Brockenbrough at the SCBWI LA conference last summer and have been looking forward to reading this book ever since. I can’t wait to discuss it with you all next time!

We’ll reconvene this most relaxed and groovy of book clubs in early summer. (Tie-dyed tees and funky shoes optional, as always!)

Happy reading!