Publisher: Penguin

Mini Review: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly (2015) by Stephanie Oakes

Mini Review: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly (2015) by Stephanie OakesThe Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes
Published by Penguin on June 9th 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Social Issues, Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance, Physical & Emotional Abuse, Religious
Pages: 400
Goodreads
five-stars

A hard-hitting and hopeful story about the dangers of blind faith—and the power of having faith in yourself The Kevinian cult has taken everything from seventeen-year-old Minnow: twelve years of her life, her family, her ability to trust. And when she rebelled, they took away her hands, too. Now their Prophet has been murdered and their camp set aflame, and it's clear that Minnow knows something—but she's not talking. As she languishes in juvenile detention, she struggles to un-learn everything she has been taught to believe, adjusting to a life behind bars and recounting the events that led up to her incarceration. But when an FBI detective approaches her about making a deal, Minnow sees she can have the freedom she always dreamed of—if she’s willing to part with the terrible secrets of her past.Gorgeously written, breathlessly page-turning and sprinkled with moments of unexpected humor, this harrowing debut is perfect for readers of Emily Murdoch's If You Find Me and Nova Ren Suma's The Walls Around Us, as well as for fans of Orange is the New Black.From the Hardcover edition.

This book is definitely one of my favorite reads for 2015 so far. It’s a gripping story about seventeen year-old Minnow Bly who has just emerged from a cult in the woods—the Kevinian cult (named after the Prophet who founded it, Kevin).

Minnow is in a juvenile detention center for attacking a boy she encountered after she left the cult. However, she is one of the only people who knows how the Prophet died and what happened that last night in the community (which burned to the ground).

That’s why an FBI agent begins visiting her, in an attempt to piece together what happened. But will Minnow reveal anything? That’s a question readers will be wondering about throughout the narrative, a story that is compelling, beautiful, and tragic, but ultimately hopeful. 

I read a huge chunk of this book on a plane journey, and it’s the perfect book for a long road or plane trip because you will want to keep reading in an attempt to find out what happened that last night with the community of the Kevinian cult.

A few things I loved about this book:

Stephanie Oakes, the Wordsmith: The prose of this novel is gorgeous! It’s no surprise to me that the author has an MFA in Poetry—you may find yourself re-reading passages, reflecting symbolic language that features gaps where meaning can be mined. Trust me—there are so many passages in this book you’ll want to highlight and return to later.

The Spirituality: So, it makes sense that a book focusing on a girl emerging from a cult would feature talk about spirituality and religion. It’s clear that the cult Minnow’s family was a part of was abusive and terrible in so many ways (let’s not talk about Minnow’s hands getting cut off—don’t get me started!) but that doesn’t mean that Minnow stops wondering about the existence of God and who made the stars and how God works. There are multiple points in the story where Minnow is talking to others or thinking about the big questions of meaning so many of us don’t ask or think about often enough.

The Hope: There are a lot of dark and sad events in this book—I won’t lie. That includes events that happen prior to the beginning of the book, and are featured through flashbacks of Minnow. Some majorly intense happenings took place within the cult community, and it might make you really mad. But in spite of the twisted beliefs and actions of those in the Kevinian cult, Minnow still manages to keep an open mind, and an underlying hope (as much as it sometimes doesn’t seem like she does). Minnow is coming to grips with the fact that the world may not look the way “The Prophet” said it did. God may be different than who he was constructed to be within the cult. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that the narrative is seeped in hope, even in the midst of some very difficult circumstances for Minnow and others.

Quotes I Loved

“Everybody around me was in pain, I realize now, but none of them ever poured it out of themselves into another person. Jude taught me what love was: to be willing to hold on to another person’s pain. That’s it.”

“We have to be happy to keep searching and not knowing all the time.”

“If it’s possible to have a soul, mine was steel-plated and invincible that night, and I think that’s what love does, makes you strong. Makes you think nothing can bring you down.”

This books get all the stars—a solid 5. I’ve already recommended it to multiple readers, but what about you? Did you read Minnow Bly’s story? What did you think?
five-stars
What Katie Read

ARC Review: The Wrath and the Dawn (2015) by Renee Ahdieh

ARC Review: The Wrath and the Dawn (2015) by Renee AhdiehThe Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
Published by Penguin on May 12th 2015
Genres: Action & Adventure, Ancient Civilizations, Fantasy, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 416
Goodreads
three-half-stars

A sumptuous and epically told love story inspired by A Thousand and One NightsEvery dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi’s wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.

I was immediately intrigued by the premise of this book–A Thousand and One Nights?!? Yes, please! Because of the connection with that collection of tales, I was expecting more nights of stories from Shahrzad, but there is a turning point in the story in which survival doesn’t rely anymore on keeping Khalid, the eighteen year old Caliph, entertained through narrative.

I was entranced by the beginning of the story, slowed down a little through the middle, but things picked up again for me towards the end. There were a few issues that came up for me with the book, but first, a few aspects of this YA novel I appreciated.

Illuminations:

The Setting: The details of setting in this book are lush and beautiful. Whether it’s descriptions of the food (“aromatic rice with fresh dill and split fava beans, lamb simmered in a sauce of turmeric and caramelized onions, skewers of chicken and roasted tomatoes, fresh vegetables garnished with mint and chopped parsley…”), the textures and colors of the clothing, or the architecture, the setting certainly made an impression on me and I appreciate the way Ahdieh set the stage for her tale.

Shahrzad, the MC: I loved her character for her snarky banter, her wit, storytelling, and her love for her friend (who died at the hand of Khalid before the book opens). Shazi is willing to sacrifice to seek justice for her friend Shiva, and this reflects the depth and largeness of her heart. I would have liked to see more development of the relationship between Khalid and Shazi since their romance is a central aspect of the story (see below).

The 3rd Person Perspective: If you read a lot of YA, you’ll know that many of these texts are told from the 1st person perspective. The Wrath & the Dawn is not—it’s in the 3rd person perspective, and this was refreshing to see.

What I Wanted To See More Of:

The Developing Relationship between Shazi & Khalid: More scenes depicting the relationship between Shazi and Khalid was something I would have appreciated. For example, there’s a turning point where we see Khalid’s feelings towards Shazi change, but what factors led to that change? I think the narrative could have provided more details leading to why Khalid fell in love with Shazi. Also, what was the main factor for her change in heart towards him?

A Less Ambiguous Ending with More Closure: This may just be me, but I wanted more from the ending. I do realize that threads are left open in anticipation of a sequel, but I would have appreciated a little more clarity on how things concluded. I thought the ending was a little rushed, and I wondered if some of the events in the conclusion could have been developed further. There’s a decision that Shazi makes at the ending and I really wondered why she decided to go through with it. Of course, I’m sure I’ll find out more about it in the second book, but what about the implications of this decision for Khalid?

The Final Illumination:

The source tale for this YA novel, A Thousand and One Nights, drew me into the book initially, and I’m interested in reading the sequel when it’s out, but I didn’t fall in love with the book quite the way I had hoped. I’m certainly looking forward to more between Shazi and Khalid in future books, but I wish that the first installment had depicted the developing romance between them a little more deeply.

What about you? What did you think of this debut YA?

**Thank you to Amanda and Holly at Gun in Act One for loaning me their ARC!

three-half-stars
What Katie Read

The Stars of Summer by Tara Dairman Blog Tour (Giveaway + Recipes!)

The Stars of Summer by Tara Dairman Blog Tour (Giveaway + Recipes!)The Stars of Summer by Tara Dairman
Published by Penguin on May 5th 2015
Genres: Cooking & Food, Humorous Stories, Middle Grade, Realistic
Pages: 336
Goodreads
five-stars

“A scrumptious gem of a story!”—Jennifer A. Nielsen, New York Times bestselling author of The False Prince for All Four Stars. In this charming sequel to All Four Stars, eleven-year-old foodie Gladys Gatsby now has her first published review under her belt and is looking forward to a quiet summer of cooking and reviewing. But her plans quickly go awry when her friend Charissa Bentley delivers Gladys’s birthday gift: a free summer at Camp Bentley. As Gladys feared, camp life is not easy: she struggles to pass her swim test and can’t keep the other campers happy while planning lunches. The worst part is she can’t seem to get away from the annoying new “celebrity” camper and sneak away for her latest assignment—finding the best hot dog in New York City. But when it turns out her hot dog assignment was a dirty trick by a jealous reviewer, Gladys’s reviewing career may be over forever.

I’m honored and excited to kick off the Official Blog Tour for the sequel to Tara Dairman’s All Four Stars: The Stars of Summer! After falling in love with Tara’s debut last year, I was jumping for joy when I received the ARC of its sequel, and I think you are going to adore this book!

In fact, you can enter a Rafflecopter Giveaway at the bottom of this post to win a SIGNED COPY of both All Four Stars and The Stars of Summer by Tara Dairman!

AllFourStarsbyTaraDairman

Prepare to be entertained by Gladys and her family and friends yet again in this May 5th release from Putnam.

A sequel to the utterly delightful All Four Stars, Tara Dairman’s The Stars of Summer opens with Gladys’s birthday dinner in NYC at a Tapas restaurant where Gladys is faced with the task of reviewing the meal with her family and friends and jotting down her notes in secret. While in the restaurant restroom, Gladys discovers that there’s a $1000 dollar reward for cracking the identity of restaurant reviewer “G. Gatsby”!

Gladys’s mishap in the previous book—the crème brulee incident is thankfully behind her and she is able to use the kitchen once again. Readers open the story expecting Gladys will be able to cook and create her culinary delights once again.

But, there’s more in store for Gladys this summer than just typical time in the kitchen. And let me give you another hint: there’s a BOY involved! Just what Gladys needs…

side eye dalmations

When Charissa gifts Gladys with a free summer at Camp Bentley, Gladys’ summer plans quickly take on a nightmarish quality. No way does Gladys want to spend her days in the sun swimming or running relay races! Her newest assignment for the newspaper is also a bit strange—she will have to find the best hot dog in New York City!

It is no surprise that adventures for Gladys ensue in this equally charming sequel to Tara Dairman’s 2014 debut.

What I Loved

The Food: From the beginning of the book, your mouth will water. Whether you’re reading about items from the Tapas Menu at Gladys’s birthday restaurant such as Ham-Wrapped Roasted Asparagus and Griddled Polenta Cakes or her three-tired Strawberry Lime Birthday cake, you might not want to read this book while hungry.

Having a healthy obsession for cookbooks, I absolutely adore the fact that Tara’s books feature a healthy number of food references! Gladys isn’t afraid to take on a culinary challenge and I love that.

Though Gladys normally wouldn’t consider scouring the city for the “best hot dog,” her summer experiences lead her in this direction. I found this to be a fabulous aspect of the sequel, especially as it’s releasing in late spring and the summer is fast approaching.

The Laugh Aloud Moments: I don’t think you can read this book with a straight face.

Gladys’s antics (especially when you add her parents as well as her friends and a new kid named Hamilton Herbertson) infuse the narrative with the perfect ingredient of humor.

I appreciate when a story, especially a middle grade novel makes me laugh, and The Stars of Summer is no exception. My hope is that you find Chapter 14: A (Hot) Dog Day of a Summer as funny as I did.

The Curriculum Connections: Both All Four Stars and The Stars of Summer are excellent choices for titles in the upper elementary classroom. Whether chosen for individual reading by students or featured as a whole class read-a-long, Tara’s books feature colorful characters, engaging plots, and humorous antics that I think would especially engage this age group.

Its culinary aspects made me think—what about including the book as part of a Home Economics/Language Arts hybrid lesson plan?

It would depend on the school’s curriculum, but I love the idea of giving students the chance to read the book and then to learn to cook some of the recipes referenced in either All Four Stars or The Stars of Summer.

The New Twists and Challenges for Gladys: Whether it was learning to swim, navigating a summer camp kitchen with the bossy Mrs. Spinelli, dealing with a boy who “might” like her, or combing the streets of New York City for every hot dog stand in sight, Gladys has her share of new adventures and lessons to learn. Gladys is as endearing a character in the sequel as she was in All Four Stars. The addition of new characters supplies welcome challenges and tension to a narrative that, to be honest, I couldn’t put down.

Reasons to Read The Stars of Summer

-You read All Four Stars and have fallen in love with Gladys and her culinary adventures.

-You need a story to get you in the mood for summer.

-You’re fascinated by the idea of the search for the perfect hot dog in New York City.

-You’re hungry for a delightful contemporary Middle Grade read about an ambitious twelve year old whose adventures and interactions will entertain you and keep you chuckling.

View Spoiler »

The_Stars_of_Summer_cover

Now, this tour stop wouldn’t be complete without at least a few gourmet hot dog recipes. I hope that Gladys would approve of these, and I have selected a few I found through my online search for some more “creative” hot dogs. Here’s one interesting tidbit—I started searching for hot dog recipes before I had finished my reading of the book. I inadvertently highlighted a hot dog recipe I wanted to include that actually shows up in the book—the Sonoran Hot Dog!

Enjoy!

If you have recipes to share, please do so in the comments below!

HOT DOGS WITH CHEDDAR AND SAUTEED APPLES

CAPRESE DOG

(Mozzarella, Basil, & Tomato!)

BACON WRAPPED SONORAN HOT DOGS

(Beans, Tomatoes, Onions, Cilantro, Avocado!)

HOT DOGS WITH DAL & RED ONION RAITA

(Lentils, Red Onion, Yogurt, Mint, Serrano Chile!)

If you missed my first interview with Tara, you can explore it here. Also, if you aren’t familiar with All Four Stars, you can read about it here.

**Thank you to Kristin Rae for a beautiful blog tour button!

BIO: Tara Dairman is the author of ALL FOUR STARS, which was named an Amazon Best Book of the Month and a Mighty Girl Top Book of 2014 for Teens and Tweens. She is also a playwright and recovering world traveler. She grew up in New York and received a B.A. in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College. After surviving the world’s longest honeymoon (two years, seventy-four countries!), she now lives in Colorado with her husband and their trusty waffle iron.

Tara Dairman headshot
Photo Credits: Tiffany Crowder @ Crowded Studios: http://www.crowdedstudiosphoto.com/

Book buying links:

Penguin: http://www.penguin.com/book/the-stars-of-summer-by-tara-dairman/9780399170690

Indiebound: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780399170690

Powells: http://www.powells.com/biblio/62-9780399170690-0

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Stars-Summer-Tara-Dairman/dp/0399170693/ref=la_B00IK6WU4U_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1412958767&sr=1-2

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-stars-of-summer-tara-dairman/1120421974?ean=9780399170690

BAM: http://www.booksamillion.com/p/Stars-Summer/Tara-Dairman/9780399170690?id=6117508412118

Indigo (Canada): http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/the-stars-of-summer/9780698173675-item.html?ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=2

Book Depository: http://www.bookdepository.com/Stars-Summer-Tara-Dairman/9780399170690

Social media links:

Website: http://taradairman.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TaraDairman

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TaraDairmanAuthor

Instagram: http://instagram.com/allfourstars/

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

five-stars
What Katie Read
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