What’s Ashley Reading?: Once Upon a Broken Heart

Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber

First line: The bell hanging outside the curiosity shop knew the human was trouble from the way he moved through the door.

Summary: Evangeline Fox believes she has found her true love until the day she discovers that he is going to be married to someone else. In the hopes of stopping the wedding, Evangeline makes a dangerous deal with the Prince of Hearts. All he asks of her is three kisses to be given at a time of his choosing. But Evangeline learns quickly that making a deal with a Fate is not as easy as it seems. The Prince of Hearts appears to have a plan for Evangeline that could lead her to her happy ending or her doom.

My Thoughts: From the cover to the description to the world of Caraval, this book was excellent! I was desperately awaiting its release. I loved Stephanie Garber’s first trilogy. And when I learned that this new one is set in the same universe I knew it was going to be just as wonderful.

The story feels like a fairy tale. It has beautiful characters, magic and dark twists. You do not have to have read the Caraval series to understand this book but I highly recommend it. Several characters and references are made to the other trilogy. One of my favorite parts of Garber’s writing is how descriptive and beautiful it is. There are lots of colors, patterns and imagination. It is not like anything else I have read.

I love her characters as well. She always has a strong female lead. But best of all, as a reader you can never tell who to trust and what they are going to do next. Some characters, such as the Prince of Hearts, may appear to be bad but what if he’s not? Or is he? In the world of Caraval not everything is as it seems.

FYI: First book in a new series by Stephanie Garber.

Teen Volunteer Book Review: Sweep by Jonathan Auxier

Book Review by Aleah Jones

Aleah is fourteen years old and a summer 2021 teen volunteer

At my school library, the William Allen White award is a big deal. Each class gets a short summary of each nominee book, with the hope of getting students interested in reading them, and eventually, voting for their favorites. I enjoyed the opportunity to read several different nominee books and then vote. That’s how I stumbled upon Sweep: The Story of a Girl and her Monster.

First Line: “There are all sorts of wonderful things a person might see very early in the morning.” 

This book is about a girl named Nan, who lost everyone and everything she ever knew. She is left with only two things to remember Sweep, her father figure. His hat, and a clump of soot that sometimes seems to have a mind of its own. Nan is hired to join a group of climbers, boys that climb chimneys to clean out the soot and grime, and she becomes a sisterly figure to them. When an “accident” happens on the job, and Nan is assumed dead, she escapes to an abandoned house. With new friends of the most unlikely kinds, including a magical golem, she continues to live in fear of her old boss, Wilkie Crudd. Her golem, whom she names Charlie, continues to protect her from harm. Nan starts to feel the pressure when she finds out that a golem doesn’t have a happy ending. She doesn’t want that to happen to Charlie because they are such great friends. Then, the time comes that she has to make a decision; continue to live in hiding or risk being found by Crudd as she protests unjust conditions of the climbers all over London? 

This book is not only an exciting adventure, but it also has historical elements in it as well. When I read this book, I learned about the children who took on the role of climber to provide for themselves. It also teaches a lesson of friendship. Nan becomes friends with characters of all shapes and sizes, and also, characters of all species.

This book is really enjoyable to read because of all the plot twists woven in throughout the story. It is also a fun read because of the uniqueness of all the characters and their different personalities. 

For some, this book might be a little confusing because of all of the flashbacks that appear throughout the story. Thankfully, all of Nan’s flashbacks are in separate italicized chapters, so it should be easy to distinguish when the flashbacks occur.

Sweep is an amazing story. It is a fantasy, history, and adventure story all rolled into one. It is a really exciting read, and I would recommend it to anyone who is over the age of ten. Younger kids may find some events in the story a bit intense.

This is an amazing story, and I would highly recommend that you read it and some of the other William Allen White Nominees. You may find a new favorite!

FYI: A few of the scenes in this book are a little intense, and a couple “accidents” happen that are slightly gruesome, but are not described in great detail.

Here’s a library link to Sweep by Jonathan Auxier

Teen Volunteer Book Review: Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Book Review by Claire Stewart

Claire is fifteen years old and a 2021 Summer Teen Volunteer

Three luscious lemon tarts glistened up at Catherine.

First line of Heartless by Marissa Meyer

    This book begins by telling the story of Lady Catherine Pinkerton, one of the most desired girls in all of Wonderland, amidst her real dream – baking. She spends the novel fighting fate, avoiding the King’s marriage proposals and her mother’s insistence that she will be Queen. 

    Of course, she will eventually be Queen – the infamous Queen of Hearts, in fact. And that’s not a spoiler, don’t worry! In fact, it’s the theme of the whole story. We all know who the Queen of Hearts is, and what it is that makes her so well-known; namely, one phrase: “Off with their heads!” So what is it that made Catherine of Hearts, the sweet girl who fell in love and wanted nothing more than to open a bakery, into the terrifying and memorable ruler of Hearts? 

    This story leads its readers through twists and turns, keeping us on our toes as we try to piece together the puzzle and differentiate fact from fiction in this strange world. We meet famous characters like the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit, and, of course, the Queen herself. She does what she can to avoid love by the King and finds it elsewhere, at his black-and-white ball – a love that sends her spiraling, literally and figuratively, through Wonderland. This story features everything from lemon tarts and unfortunate turtles to strange pumpkins and unbeknownst best friends to magical rose bushes and criminals who aren’t so villainous. In short, it’s a thrilling read, one that practically jumps at you from off the pages. 

    As for the novel itself, my family can attest to the fact that it was practically glued to my fingers while I was reading it. I’m hesitant to speak too highly of this book, in case you, dear reader, end up not actually liking it, but this book was definitely to my taste. It’s quite sad, to be honest, and not for the faint of heart. It’s a given that there will be loss of life, love and limb – how else will Cath become the raging “off with their heads” kind of person? So, as long as that’s down your alley, I think you’ll quite enjoy it. 

    I also found each and every character rather enthralling, just because of intricate backstories and quite humanoid feelings and motives each one possessed. It isn’t the kind of book you’ll find yourself scratching your head and saying, “well, no real person would do that!” – if, of course, you can remember that no rabbits in our world speak and a multitude of hats doesn’t make you magical. I found myself really relating to our leading lady, and being pulled so deeply into her feelings that it was as if they were my own.

Overall, this book was quite sad, so I do give a word of warning to anyone who’s a bit too empathetic and accidentally ends up as an unpaid therapist for fictitious beings. But it was also witty, and interesting, and, ironically, magical. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and hope you do, too!

Teen Volunteer Book Review: The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan

Book Review by Rachel Johnson

Rachel is fifteen years old and currently a 2021 Summer Teen Volunteer

    When I picked up The Ruins of Gorlan, I did it to escape the constant heckling of my school librarian. According to her, the book was infinite in virtue and would never be praised enough.

    Right off the start, the author caught my attention with his – shall we say interesting – writing. Take the first line for example:

“Morgarath, Lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night, former Baron of Gorlan in the Kingdom of Araluen, looked out over his bleak, rain-swept domain and, for perhaps the thousandth time, cursed,” – Flanagan pg 1.

That quote gives you a pretty good idea of what the rest of the book is written like. The dialect is interesting and is not unrealistic. Even though the book is set in feudal times, the book is never hard to read and is easy to follow. 

    The Ruins of Gorlan is an exciting adventure that I couldn’t put down. The book starts with an orphan named Will, hoping he is chosen to be a knight, like his father. Though that wish is not fulfilled, he does find happiness being trained to become a ranger by Halt,the mysterious man who lives in the forest. Then Morgarath, lord of a whole bunch of depressing stuff – as was shown in the quote – hatches an evil plot and Will and Halt team up with a few side characters to take care of it. The ending was riveting and plausible. Let’s just say Will got his chance to save the day and prove himself, and leave it at that. 

    Not only is the book interesting, it also encourages hard work. Will starts out with nothing and no one, but through working hard to become a Ranger, he gains skills, admiration, and a few close friends. Will doesn’t get all that stuff for free – he has to study and practice with his bow and knives to earn his triumph. 

    In The Ruins of Gorlan even the side characters are interesting. Firstly there is Alyss, who trains to become prominent in the diplomatic service. She is interesting, strong, and witty. Horace takes Will’s dream and makes it become a reality for himself. He struggles through Battleschool, and truly has a hero’s journey as surely as Will does. He starts out bullying Will, then after joining Battleschool and working harder than ever before, he has a few adventures with Will and they end up as best friends. Halt is perhaps the most interesting of the side characters. He starts out as grumpy and enigmatic. Then through Will’s young and cheerful influence, he becomes cheerful and begins to love Will like a son. One of the most interesting plot lines in the story is Will discovering Halt’s mysterious past.

    I enjoyed this book a lot and owe a big thank you to my school librarian. Even though I might not have enjoyed it quite as much as she did, I still liked it a lot. Since reading the first book, I read the whole series and found each of the books to be just as – if not more interesting than the first. I would recommend this book to anyone who can read and is older than ten.

FYI: There was a little action and violence, but no more than one might expect in a fantasy adventure.

Courntey’s Book Chat: The Gilded Wolves

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

First Line: Severin glanced at the clock: two minutes left. 

Summary: In this YA Historical Fantasy set in 1889 Paris, when Severin is offered his true inheritance in exchange for stealing a precious artifact, he and four recruited experts work to hunt it down while staying ahead of a dark mystery.

My Thoughts: I didn’t want The Gilded Wolves to end.

I loved each of the characters. They were all fully developed and each had their own quirks, strengths, and weaknesses. My favorite part was how they all interacted with each other, complete with witty banter and genuine love. Chokshi pulls off an ensemble cast exceedingly well. The characters are also richly diverse, with the main characters being people of color, two fitting in the LGBTQ community, and one reading as neurodivergent. I enjoyed reading each of the four point-of-view characters’ chapters.

The plot is ripe with tension and twists. Each moment is suspenseful, intriguing, and replete with mystery as the characters go through their mission. The puzzles and codes the characters have to solve are so interesting, incorporating bits of world building, history, and math. I especially loved how each character’s interests and backgrounds help them solve the codes.

The re-imagined history is also intriguing, with the fantasy elements skillfully woven into the story. Chokshi writes incredibly lush descriptions, and though dense, the writing never feel tedious to read through and adds to the smart and sophisticated story, world, and cast of characters. This book also addresses colonialism, repatriation, and greed, which makes for an interesting and relevant read.

I found the end slightly disappointing, but The Gilded Wolves as a whole is a beautiful and stunning, filled with twists and turns, a delightful ensemble cast, and plenty of mystery.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Blade of Secrets

Blade of Secrets by Tricia Levenseller

First line: I prefer metal to people, which is why the forge is my safe space.

Summary: Ziva, an eighteen-year-old female blacksmith, makes magical weapons in her forge. But one day she takes a commission from a powerful warlord. With this commission she makes the most deadly weapon ever. It has the power to bring nations to their knees. In order to keep it from the woman who wants to use it to take over the country she and her sister flee their home to find a way to destroy the weapon before it can be used.

My Thoughts: I have come to love Levenseller’s books. She writes such fun stories that have great characters. This one was the same. Her main character deals with social anxiety while also have a powerful gift and talent. It is great to see author’s bringing in characters that are not perfect. Everyone needs a hero that represents them.

The beginning of the story seemed to drag for me. It took a while for me to get invested in what was happening which was really disappointing because usually I am all in for the author’s stories. About halfway in I started loving the characters, enjoyed the possible romance and was waiting for some big twist to happen. But the end is what made it hard trying to decide how to rate this book. I loved the last 25% or so. Characters became more developed, secrets are revealed and a big battle happens. And of course a cliffhanger.

I will definitely read the next book.

FYI: This is the first book in a duology.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab

First line: A girl is running for her life.

Summary: It’s 1714 in a small village in France. A young woman of twenty-three is being forced to marry but she does not want to be tied down. She wants to live and see the world. So she makes a bargain with one of the old gods. She promises her soul for the chance to live forever. But there is always a catch. No one will remember who she is.

For centuries she lives her life by stealing, lying and relying on “strangers.” Love has come and gone for Addie but nothing ever lasts when everyone she meets forgets her as soon as she is out of sight. Until one day she meets a young man who remembers her.

My Thoughts: At the beginning I was enthralled by the story and the idea of this book. How can a person live when no one knows who you are? While I was reading I kept thinking that things wouldn’t be hard to live like this until I remember that from one minute to the next every person becomes a stranger again. You could not have an apartment, a job, friends, or anything really. Sounds terribly lonely.

I liked being able to see Addie change and make her way through the turbulent 300 years from the beginning of her curse and meeting Henry. She learns very quickly how to get by on her wits and luck. But as I continued through the story I felt it getting a little repetitive. The author did throw in some twists to the story which helped liven up some of the slower parts.

But the ending was the best part of all. It was imaginative and perfect for this story. I won’t spoil it but I will say that I cannot think of a better way to end the story.

FYI: Language, death, curses.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Midnight Library

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

First line: Nineteen years before she decided to die, Nora Seed sat in the warmth of the small library at Hazeldene School in the town of Bedford.

Summary: Nora Seed has decided to die. Everything is falling apart around her. She is single, her cat died, she lost her job, her parents are dead and her brother won’t talk to her. What’s the point anymore? As she dies she finds that there is a library filled with possible other lives that would have existed had she made different choices. The librarian directs her to the books of these alternate lives where she can decide if she would rather live in those instead. Which one will she choose?

“Between life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be if you had made other choices . . . Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?”

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this story. At the beginning it can be depressing as Nora keeps having her world fall apart around her. It almost seems like an It’s a Wonderful Life situation. But this is more inventive and adds another dimension to story. Rather than seeing the world without her, it looks at the world if she had made different choices.

I liked how different each life was because of one small choice. It’s the Butterfly Effect. One decision can change so much for you and every person you come into contact with. But we also see that what may appear to be perfect can still have its challenges. Nothing is perfect.

Everyone has things that they regret. I know I do. I wish I had spent a year abroad in college. But if I did that I would never have gotten my dog, Winston. I regret not staying at K-State in order to save money on college but if I hadn’t I would not have traveled around Europe with a group from Tabor College. There is always something that could be different but with every regret there is something good you would lose too.

Even though this sounds like a depressing book, it is really uplifting. It has a great message to anyone who is struggling with life choices and how to make the best of what we are given. Find joy in the small things.

FYI: Trigger warnings: suicide, drug overdose, language.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Gilded Ones

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

First line: Today is the Ritual of Purity.

Summary: The Ritual of Purity is the day that young girls enter womanhood. Deka has always been different from the others in her tribe but she hopes that the ritual will redeem her in their eyes. But on the day, her blood runs gold rather than red, marking her as impure. She is imprisoned by the village elders.

After weeks of torture, a strange woman arrives and takes her to join a group of girls just like Deka. She learns that she is alaki, near immortal with special gifts. The girls are trained to fight and kill Deathshrieks, a creature that attacks and kills the people of Otera. As she trains she finds friendships but also starts to question everything that she grew up learning.

My Thoughts: The cover immediately caught my attention. It is stunning. Gorgeous colors that bring to life the West African feel of the story. The magic system, the different characters and the creatures were all wonderfully done. Even though many of the themes were typical of the young adult fantasy novel the details made it different. I was intrigued by the way Deka could heal, her powers and her backstory (once we learn more about it at the end).

I did find that parts seemed rushed. Especially the training at the beginning and the battle at the end. Everything happened so fast with very little build up. Part of me liked not having it drawn out but also it seemed to suddenly be over too. I had to sit and think about the big reveals at the end because there was a lot of information dumped in but once I figured out everything it was a great twist. Even though the book seemed to end without a cliffhanger there are at least 2 more books planned.

FYI: A new young adult book with a strong female lead and feminist ideas. Perfect for fans of The Children of Blood and Bone.

Mama Lala Reads: Maya and the Rising Dark

My Thoughts (SPOILERS): This book makes me want to research. I know I’ve heard of the Orisha before…

First Line: “T- minus five days.”

Summary: There is magic in this world, and the rest, and nobody knows it. One day Maya watches the color drain from the world, and wonders if she is going crazy. Then her dad disappears– literally– and Maya knows something is going on. When the truth is revealed to her, she knows she must go save her father.

Rating: 4.5 stars! I know something about this book must not be perfect, but I cannot think of it!

My Thoughts (SPOILERS): This book makes me want to research. I know I’ve heard of the Orisha before, I believe it is an African folklore, but i want to KNOW. I want to compare these characters to the Gods they are based on. I want to dive deep into the mythology.

A little warning, I wanted to read this book with my daughter, who is 9. I’m a little glad I didn’t. Some kids could handle this book at that age, and others would have nightmares. I’m not sure which side my girl would land on, and that is why I’m glad I didn’t share. The villain is quite creepy, and he can kill you in your dreams (which is why I was timid to share with my young one).

All in all, it’s a wonderful book, just be sure your creepy kid won’t get nightmares before you bring it home to them.

You can check it out at the library via the link above. Hope to see you soon.

Happy Reading my friends,

Chelsea (Mama Lala)