Salt to the Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Published: February 2, 2016
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 4 stars
While the Titanic and Lusitania are both well-documented disasters, the single greatest tragedy in maritime history is the little-known January 30, 1945 sinking in the Baltic Sea by a Soviet submarine of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German cruise liner that was supposed to ferry wartime personnel and refugees to safety from the advancing Red Army. The ship was overcrowded with more than 10,500 passengers — the intended capacity was approximately 1,800 — and more than 9,000 people, including 5,000 children, lost their lives.
Sepetys crafts four fictionalized but historically accurate voices to convey the real-life tragedy. Joana, a Lithuanian with nursing experience; Florian, a Prussian soldier fleeing the Nazis with stolen treasure; and Emilia, a Polish girl close to the end of her pregnancy, converge on their escape journeys as Russian troops advance; each will eventually meet Albert, a Nazi peon with delusions of grandeur, assigned to the Gustloff decks.
I have a love/hate relationship with Ruta. She’s such a great story teller, and I think her works should be on every history teacher’s shelf as a great educational resource. I love her characters and she loves picking slightly obscure events within bigger, more famous circumstances. But she also loves to let stories hang. At the end, they just stop abruptly, but then time races forward and a little more info is given before the book just ends. There’s no real resolution and the “future” info is given with no real context. Why do it, Ruta????? We want more and you refuse to ever give it to us!!!!
Salt to the Sea has such wonderful characters that you end up caring about and rooting for and getting so excited about. The story of the Wilhelm Gustloff is a little known chapter of WW2; I had never heard of it, and I couldn’t wait to learn something new. Then everything just stops. She then gives just enough to “end” the story without “stopping” completely . . . But it’s not enough! What happened between 1945 and 1969? What happened with the Christensens that Emilia made that big of an impact? It’s just so incomplete and I’ve really never been sadder about the ending of a book! Every teen needs to read this book because they will learn a lot from it. But, please, Ruta!! Please stop doing this to us!!
Words on Fire
Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Published: October 1, 2019
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 3 stars
Danger is never far from Audra’s family farm in Lithuania. She always avoids the occupying Russian Cossack soldiers, who insist that everyone must become Russian — they have banned Lithuanian books, religion, culture, and even the language. But Audra knows her parents are involved in something secret and perilous.
When Cossacks arrive abruptly at their door, Audra’s parents insist that she flee, taking with her an important package and instructions for where to deliver it. But escape means abandoning her parents to a terrible fate.
As Audra embarks on a journey to deliver the mysterious package, she faces unimaginable risks, and soon she becomes caught up in a growing resistance movement. Can joining the underground network of book smugglers give Audra a chance to rescue her parents?
I really love Nielsen’s books, especially her historical fiction series. She does such a great job of telling the stories of some of the forgotten heroes of history and she does it with respect and style. Unfortunately, this is not my favorite of that series. It’s not a bad book by any means, I just had some issues with it. I felt a disconnect with Audra that I didn’t want to feel. She wasn’t as likable as Nielsen’s other characters. She strayed into that “idealist” territory, where a lot of preaching happens but not a lot of common sense. Of course books are important and for many people in Lithuania under Russian Imperial rule, they were a lifeline to their language and culture. For some reason, it just felt shallow. In the shadow of big country with a stronger army, the resistance seemed ineffectual. There was no balance between passive and military resistance.
I know that the freedoms we enjoy today, of being able to drive to just about any store and buying any book we want, made book running then look like such a small thing. And that was my own shortcoming while reading this book. I just missed the emotions and feels that I got from her other books. I would still recommend this to history teachers and teens because there are excellent lessons to be learned. I personally felt distant from the story, and that makes me sad.
Author: Amy Lukavics
Published: September 29, 2015
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 5 stars
When sixteen-year-old Amanda Verner’s family decides to move from their small mountain cabin to the vast prairie, she hopes it is her chance for a fresh start. She can leave behind the memory of the past winter; of her sickly ma giving birth to a baby sister who cries endlessly; of the terrifying visions she saw as her sanity began to slip, the victim of cabin fever; and most of all, the memories of the boy she has been secretly meeting with as a distraction from her pain. The boy whose baby she now carries.
When the Verners arrive at their new home, a large cabin abandoned by its previous owners, they discover the inside covered in blood. And as the days pass, it is obvious to Amanda that something isn’t right on the prairie. She’s heard stories of lands being tainted by evil, of men losing their minds and killing their families, and there is something strange about the doctor and his son who live in the woods on the edge of the prairie. But with the guilt and shame of her sins weighing on her, Amanda can’t be sure if the true evil lies in the land, or deep within her soul.
This is the perfect scary book! This is the second time I’ve read Daughters Unto Devils and it was even better this time. Lukavics writes some of the best creepy reads I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. The Women in the Walls scared the crap out of me last year. I was looking for something easy and interesting to help finish the year so I went with the scary. And it was AWESOME!
The chills started from the beginning. Amanda is haunted by the past winter and all I get is some vague ideas about what had happened so, naturally, my imagination went nuts. Throw in a deaf and blind baby who screams constantly, and you have the makings of a fascinating story. The abandoned cabin that they move into sets the mood perfectly. I can’t really say anymore because it just has to be read and felt . . . y’all are in for such a macabre treat!! There are some adult situations so I would save this for older teens. I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone looking for a eerie read!