Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys
“A knock comes at the door in the dead of night, and Lina’s life changes in an instant. With her young brother and mother, she is hauled away by the Soviet secret police from her home in Lithuania and thrown into a cattle car en route to Siberia. Separated from her father, Lina secretly passes along clues in the form of drawings, hoping they will reach his prison camp. But will her letters, or her courage, be enough to reunite her family? Will they be enough to keep her alive?” [back of book]
This historical fiction novel dove into a place in history I am unfamiliar with, so I thoroughly getting to read a new story and learn about a new side of history’s many faces. It read like a YA novel at times, though it dealt with experiences that are full of depth: forced family separation, abuse, starvation, imprisonment, war, etc. Sepetys is Lithuanian-American and brings to light a part of Lithuania’s history that is kept in the shadows with this novel. The ending was kind of abrupt, which I wasn’t a huge fan of, but maybe that’s because I’ve been reading multi-book series like Outlander (which is still in progress) and I never want a book to end. Could be a personal problem.
The Wrath & The Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
“Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, is a monster. Each night he takes a new wife, only to have her killed by sunrise. Shahrzad is the first volunteer to become Khalid’s bride. She vows to stop his reign of terror – for the friend she lost, and for all those who perished before her. Incredibly, Shahrzad manages to survive her first morning…then the next. Night after night, she mesmerizes the Caliph with her storytelling – at once buying time and digging deeper into the elusive boy-king’s past. If Khalid is truly the murderous madman everyone says he is, how does Shahrzad find it so easy to fall for him?” [back of book]
After reading the synopsis for this book, I was hesitant to read it; I didn’t think I could handle another girl-falls-in-love-with-monster-who-isn’t-really-a-monster trope (aka, Beauty and the Beast-esque). But I was wrong. This story is a reimagining of One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights), which I have never read before. This was a YA novel I couldn’t put down, and I ended up finishing it in two days. If you’re a fan of Sarah J. Maas’ series, this is right up your alley.
** If you plan to read this, the next paragraph is about the sequel, so skip over it!! *
The Rose & The Dagger by Renée Ahdieh
“Shahrzad thought she was on the right side of the war. That was until she discovered the man she married – the man everyone believed to be a murderous king – was actually plagued by a powerful curse. Now torn from her husband, Khalid, and taking refuge with her family among his enemies, Shahrzad finds herself a prisoner caught between loyalties to the people she loves. Determined to find her way back to Khalid before the kingdom is attacked, Shahrzad awakens the powers inside her to attempt to break the curse and unite with her true love once more.” [back of book]
This sequel was a bit lackluster for me compared to the first book. I still devoured it in a couple of days, but the major plot points seemed slightly anti-climactic. There were a few new characters that I enjoyed getting to know more, but their storylines didn’t seem fully developed. Obviously, as minor characters, they shouldn’t be the main focus, but I personally think that building a subplot with rich minor characters is key to having a well-rounded story. The end came together in a nicely wrapped bow, but I just wanted to read more of the storyline. This may be because the series is based on One Thousand and One Nights, a folk tale, and those are usually pretty structured.
Overall, this series was a fun YA read, and I would recommend it to ACOTAR or Throne of Glass fans.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
“Ghana, eighteenth century: two half sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery. Homegoing follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. Yaa Gyasi’s extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed – and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of our nation.” [back of book]
This is the best novel I have read in a long time. Gyasi’s storytelling abilities are profound; being able to introduce a new character in varying moments of their life each chapter, yet still have the novel feel seamless and chronological is a true gift. I took a pen to this my first go around, highlighting beautiful bits of prose and putting asterisks next to sentences that resonated with me. This is definitely a novel I plan to pick up multiple times in my life, adding my pen marks to its pages as it adds knowledge and thought to my life. Read it.
Like Love by Michele Morano
“When Morano was an adolescent in blue-collar Poughkeepsie, New York, her mother left her father for a woman in an era when LGBTQ parents were widely viewed as ‘unfit.’ Through the turmoil, adolescent Morano paid attention, tucking away the stories that were shaping her and guiding her understanding of love. Turning romantic clichés inside out and challenging us to rethink our notions about what it means to love, Like Love tells hard and necessary truths about the importance of desire in growing, traveling, mourning, parenting, and figuring out who you are in the world. With precision and depth, Morano explores what it means to find ourselves in relationships that are not quite – but almost – like love.” [excerpt from back of book]
I stumbled upon this very recent release from my college professor and ordered a copy without even reading the synopsis because I have enjoyed everything else Morano has written. I took her Introduction to Personal Essay and Travel Writing classes during undergrad and learned to love non-fiction writing, something I didn’t really know was possible. Though this collection of essays is quite personal, I still find myself relating to some of the stories, commiserating with the ones I can’t, and enjoying every single one. This book made me pause and think about instances in my own life where a feeling like love has occurred.