Books: The Cheapest Vacation You Can Buy

Between Shades of GreyFrom Goodreads: Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they’ve known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin’s orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously–and at great risk–documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.


My book club picked this novel as their first read of the school year, and let me tell you, I was not happy. I didn’t want to read this book. I teach about the holocaust, WWII, Stalin, and I really didn’t want to read another book on the topic.  Not at the beginning of the school year.  I didn’t want to deal with anything depressing—and truth be told, I was completely sure I wouldn’t like it, that it’d be like all the other books I’d read about the holocaust.  So I put it off, and I put it off… until the night before our first meeting and we’d talk about it.  What kind of Book Club advisor would I be if I didn’t at least try to read the book?  So I began reading it, and do you know what happened?  I couldn’t stop.  Between Shades Of Grey is absolutely amazing—it’s a haunting tale that is unlike any I’ve ever read on the subject, and it’s beautiful.  It’s a story few really hear because Stalin’s reign of terror and his “camps” are usually swept under the mat—not many really know what he did to his people.  Yet Sepetys lays it bare for her readers, and this story, her message, can’t be ignored.

This is a novel that will catch readers unawares, ripping out your heart and leaving you raw and bleeding for Lina, her family, and all those she comes in contact with as the story unfolds.  It’s heart wrenching, and yet, it’s a must read.  Even if you don’t want to cry, even if you don’t want to feel raw inside, you need to read this novel.  Sepetys’ writing is breathtaking, as is her story of fear, hatred, rejection, and redemption.  The characters will melt your heart and you will cry out at the injustice of it all, and you will remember it long after the final page.  And we need to remember.  For all those who experienced this.  For all those who died.  Remember.  Five stars.

5 stars

I borrowed this novel from the library.


cover32102-mediumFrom Goodreads: Ruby never asked for the abilities that almost cost her her life. Now she must call upon them on a daily basis, leading dangerous missions to bring down a corrupt government and breaking into the minds of her enemies. Other kids in the Children’s League call Ruby “Leader,” but she knows what she really is: a monster.

When Ruby is entrusted with an explosive secret, she must embark on her most dangerous mission yet: leaving the Children’s League behind. Crucial information about the disease that killed most of America’s children—and turned Ruby and the others who lived into feared and hated outcasts—has survived every attempt to destroy it. But the truth is only saved in one place: a flashdrive in the hands of Liam Stewart, the boy Ruby once believed was her future—and who now wouldn’t recognize her.

As Ruby sets out across a desperate, lawless country to find Liam—and answers about the catastrophe that has ripped both her life and America apart—she is torn between old friends and the promise she made to serve the League. Ruby will do anything to protect the people she loves. But what if winning the war means losing herself?


Truth be told, this novel started off a little slow for me because I didn’t refresh my memory about the prequel, The Darkest Minds, and so I felt like I was playing catch-up a bit in the beginning.  This is not fault of the author, but rather a reader error that I now know to remedy for the third installment, because I can’t wait for it to release next year!  As certain events from the first novel began to clarify in my mind as I read, the novel picked up speed and I soon found that it was a nonstop action packed sequence novel that had my stomach dropping all over the place.  If you’ve read The Darkest Minds, brush up on the major events because they’re going to come back to haunt Ruby in this novel, and it really helps to remember them from the get-go.  And if you haven’t read The Darkest Minds?  Do it.  It’s a very interesting tale, and this sequel knocked my breath away—but these novels really need to be read in order.

Ruby is an Orange.  That means she can root around in a person’s head and make them believe things that aren’t true, see things that aren’t there, erase entire memories and people from a mind, and this makes her extremely dangerous.  And awesome.  Because Ruby doesn’t exploit her power; she hates it, internalizing her terror and referring to herself as a monster.  In truth, Ruby’s life has been shattered on more than one occasion, and she hasn’t known much happiness since the catastrophe that changed the face of America’s children.  Living in constant fear, and having ripped the memories from the one boy that mattered, Ruby reviles herself.  And yet, there is a glimmer of hope as she sets off to find Liam and the flash drive that has the potential to answer her deepest questions and save the exploited and abused children of the world.

I spent a lot of this novel wondering whether The Children’s League was truly good or bad.  The first novel makes readers think one way, and this novel hovers between the two, sometimes pointing in one direction, and sometimes in the other, but in the end, the true threat lies with the government.  I still can’t say whether The Children’s League is good or evil, but many of my questions have been answered, and as Ruby and her friends traipse off into the wilderness and band together time and time again against other children, the pursuers of the League, and the government, the novel swallows the reader whole, dropping us right into the middle of this war, making it impossible not to root for Ruby and her unlikely team of misfits.

Reader beware, not everyone goes unscathed in this novel, and with the death of a character I initially disliked and learned to love, I suggest you keep a box of tissues handy.  This is war.  People die, people turn on each other, and lives are ruined.  And it’s one hell of a ride.  Four and a half stars.

4.5 stars

Disney-Hyperion has been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Netgalley, prior to its release on October 15, 2013.

The Darkest Minds (#1)

Never Fade (#2)

et cetera
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