Terese’s Thoughts: The Naked Don’t Fear the Water

The Naked Don’t Fear the Water by Matthieu Aikins

First Line: At first light, I leaned against the window and looked down at the mountains.

Summary: Matthieu Aikins is a young Canadian reporter who living in and reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan. While there, he befriends Omar, a local translator and driver who worked closely with U.S. Special Forces and found himself on the front lines more than once. Omar longs for the freedoms of Europe and the United States and he is devastated when his visa application to the U.S. is denied. Although Omar is desperate to get out, he also has a hard time committing to leaving because he is head over heels in love with Laila, whose conservative father will not permit her to marry a man of such little means.

In 2016, Omar and Matthieu decide to leave together, following the smuggler’s road to escape to Europe. Matthieu leaves his passport behind, passing as Afghan to experience the journey as a true refugee would, alongside Omar. Of course, he is also acutely aware that at any time he could call and escape the perils that so many cannot. The book details the many steps along their journey as the pair encounter cops, guards, activists, cross several borders, and get to know fellow refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, and Africa–all searching for a better life for themselves and their families.

My Thoughts: This book offers a straight-forward, first-hand account of what their underground journey looks like, and it’s fascinating all the way through. So often, refugees are lumped together into a single entity in the news. In this book, we get to know who some of these people truly are. We hear about their hopes for the future, and we gain an understanding of the countless barriers to achieving freedom they encounter. As wars continue to rage and economic inequality increases across the globe, our refugee crisis only worsens. I wish anyone who had a negative view of immigrants would get to know the individuals themselves by listening to or reading their stories, and then maybe they’d have more empathy. I understand immigration is a complex issue, but in my mind, the world could use all the empathy and understanding it can get.

In addition to being a story about Afghan refugees, this book is also a story of friendship, an adventure tale, and a love story. It is hopeful as much as it is heartrending.

FYI: As a follow-up, listen to this interview with Aikins on the Longform Podcast from after the release of the book, and the fall of the Afghan government.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Daughters of a Dead Empire

Daughters of a Dead Empire by Carolyn Tara O’Neil

First line: I saw the fire first.

Summary: In this alternate history about the Russian Revolution, Anastasia Romanov has escaped the Bolsheviks and is running for her life. She stumbles into a village where she meets a young Bolshevik girl, Evgenia, who grudgingly helps this mysterious aristocratic girl. As the two girls with very different views of the world try to survive they learn that the world is not as black and white as they originally thought.

My Thoughts: Ever since high school I have been fascinated by Anastasia Romanov. The thought that this young girl escaped a tragic death is a mystery that has boggled many for years. Unfortunately, Anastasia did not escape but I still enjoy reading fiction about what her life after escaping death would have been like.

At the beginning I was very annoyed with both of the girls but I think that was what the author was intending. Each of them were stubbornly only believing what they knew rather than considering other points of view. But as the story progressed each one was faced with the realities of the Revolution and destroying the beliefs they held so dear.

I enjoyed the growing relationship between the girls. There was no romance in the book. It centered on friendship and the internal battle between conscience/ideologies and love.

As well as being entertaining it was informative too. I learned about the involvement of Czech soldiers in the Russian Revolution. They had their own battalion and were promised independence for the Czech people if the Imperial Army won the Revolution.

Since this took place during the Russian Revolution there was lots of violence. However, the violence was not always focused on the armies but much of it hurt the peasants they were fighting for. It is easy to forget that many civilian deaths happened alongside soldier deaths. It was hard to read but it was real and needs to be remembered.

FYI: Lots of death, violence and torture.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Never Have I Ever

Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson

First line: The game was Roux’s idea.

Summary: Amy Whey has spent years rebuilding her life after a tragic accident in her teens. She has husband, baby son and a step-daughter who she adores. Everything is going Amy’s way until Roux comes over for book club. In an attempt to unsettle Amy, Roux suggests playing Never Have I Ever, but with a twist. As the game progresses, Amy realizes that Roux knows her darkest secret. The one she has not even told her husband.

Roux tells Amy that if she doesn’t pay her the money she is asking for, she will go to the police and tell them about Amy’s past. In order to save the life she has built, Amy will dig back into her past to figure out how to outwit Roux.

My Thoughts: This book was twisted. There were so many different ways I thought the story would go but then the author took the reader on a completely different path. I literally gasped several times when a new twist was revealed. I really enjoyed the book but all the main characters were not great people. Amy was the best of the bunch but as you learn more about her and what she has done and what is happening in her head, I liked her less and less. Roux is the character that you love to hate. She is the opposite of Amy. She is not ashamed of who she is.

But the ending was nuts! I was really shocked by the ending. I don’t want to spoil anything but I never, ever would have guessed that ending.

FYI: Sexual content, language and death.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Survive the Night

Survive the Night by Riley Sager

First line: Fade in.

Summary: Two months earlier, Charlie’s best friend, Maddy was murdered by the Campus Killer. But what makes things even worse is that Charlie could have done something to stop it from happening. She blames herself. And the only way she feels that she can move on from this tragedy is to leave school and go home to try and heal.

At the university ride board she meets a young man who offers to drive her home since it is on his way. Charlie is so desperate to leave Olyphant that she accepts. But as soon as she gets into his car she starts to wonder if she has made a terrible choice. Little things start to happen which makes Charlie wonder if Josh is not what he seems. Will she survive the long night time drive?

My Thoughts: I had so much fun reading this book! I kept having to tell myself to relax. I was caught up in the tension and fear. It immediately sucked me in. And Charlie is a very unreliable narrator since she has a disorder that takes her out of reality if things become too much for her. As I read I never knew what to believe and what is one of the movies in her head.

Riley Sager’s books always have the feel of an eighties horror movie. That may be one of the reasons I love them so much. They can be cheesy at times but that is how I want an eighties movie to be. There was lots of twists and turns. I did not expect the ending at all. Some things seemed a little obvious but I was very shocked by big reveal. I would highly recommend this to anyone who wants a fast and fun thriller for the summer. It hits the spot perfectly.

FYI: Violence, murder, and some language.

Monica’s Musings: In Five Years

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

“The future is the one thing you can count on not abandoning you, kid, he’d said. The future always finds you. Stand still, and it will find you. The way the land just has to run to the sea.”

― Rebecca Serle, In Five Years

This book caught my attention when I read the summary on the inside cover. Dannie is living a life that she has tediously planned. Every minute is meticulously mapped out in her mind, leaving no room for error. However, when she wakes up from a nap and is five years in the future, she is shocked by what she sees. She is in a different apartment, with a different man, and has a different ring on her finger. When she is snapped back to her current life an hour later, she tries even harder to control things to prevent that moment from happening.

Before her journey to the future, Dannie and her boyfriend of two years, David, live together and they both are working hard to achieve their career goals. When he proposes, of course, she says yes. Everything so far is going according to their five-year plan. However, after her vision of the future on the night she says yes to David, her plan starts to crumble.

While this book focuses on Dannie’s five-year journey, there is another story line also taking place. Her childhood best friend, Bella, is the total opposite of her. Bella is a free spirit who lets the world decide her fate. They balance each other out, and they both rely on their friendship as the one thing that stays consistent in life. The author is able to capture the love between two friends, and it seems that their support for each other is the true love story in this book.

I enjoyed In Five Years, because of the fast pace at which the story evolves. It was a quick and easy read. However, I was expecting more of a grand finale to the book. About halfway through, my predictions on the ending were accurate. I would recommend it to anyone who likes a short, entertaining read.

It was focused on love, and friendship, and learning to let go of the things that cannot be controlled. When the book was over, I was left with the mindset of, “what will be, will be”, and there is no reason to spend life trying to alter the future. I would rate this story a 4.5 out of 5.

Dylan’s Book Recommendation: Freak The Mighty

Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick

First line: I never had a brain until Freak came along and let me borrow his for a while, and that’s the truth, the whole truth.

Summary: “I never had a brain until Freak came along.” That’s what Max thought. All his life he’d been called stupid. Dumb. Slow. It didn’t help that his body seemed to be growing faster than his mind. It didn’t help that people were afraid of him. So Max learned how to be alone. At least until Freak came along. Freak was weird, too. He had a little body–and a really big brain.Together Max and Freak were unstoppable. Together, they were Freak the Mighty. (summary from back of book)

Thoughts: This is a story about the unlikely friendship about two people who use their characteristics to form a great team. Big brains+big body= Freak The Mighty. This book is kinda sad though, so be ready. Also, you might as well read it because if Covid-19 allows schools to re-open, you are going to be required to read this book anyway. So if you choose to read it, you’ll be ahead of the game

Amelia’s Favorites: Shoot for the Moon!

Shoot for the Moon! by Corinne Humphrey

I picked this book out for Amelia solely on the cover. She absolutely loved looking at it, and I’d catch her browsing the pages when I wasn’t reading it to her.

This book is about a shelter dog named Rudy, and some life lessons we can all learn. Something that truly hit me was when it said “it doesn’t matter what kind of dog you are…you can create the life you want.” I thought that was so powerful. Amelia loved when Rudy saw his shadow, and was trying to balance on the ball.

This book was inspired by the real life story of a shelter dog named Rudy and his owner Corrine. The back of the book has a little bio about them which made me enjoy the book that much more.

If it’s any indication as to if Amelia liked this book, we kept it the full 3 week checkout!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Follow Me

Follow Me by Kathleen Barber

First line: Everyone on the internet is a liar.

Summary: Audrey is an influencer. She has over a million followers on Instagram. When she decides to take her dream job at an art museum in Washington D.C. she is excited but she does not know that someone waits for her in her new city.

Cat is Audrey’s friend from college. A young lawyer looking to make a name for herself in her law firm. Her best friend arrives from New York. It seems like things are going right for her but maybe everything isn’t as bright as it seems.

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed the first 80% of this book. I could not wait to find out who the mysterious “him” was. I loved how the stories interweaved and the hints about Cat’s secret. I was creeped out by the stalker and his methods. This book makes you realize how dangerous social media and the internet can be. It lets someone into your life that you do not know or cannot trust. I kept hoping for some big reveal that would blow my mind but I figured out the stalker fairly early. I hoped that I was wrong and the author was trying to psych the reader out. However, the story fell flat at the end. It was pretty obvious how it was going to end up. It was a four star book until the last 8% of the book. Oh well. It was a still a fun read.

But my favorite part was the art exhibit! The dioramas sound so cool. I would love to see something like this.

FYI: Beware of who you let follow you on social media!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Scythe

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

First line: We must, by law, keep a record of the innocents we kill.

Summary: Society has finally learned to conquer death. The world is no longer starving, dying from disease or dying in general. However, one small problem remains. Overpopulation. The solution is the Scythedom. Scythes are people who are chosen and trained to take human lives in order to keep the population of Earth to a manageable level.

When Citra and Rowan are chosen by Honorable Scythe Faraday as his apprentices they are less than thrilled. Life as a scythe is one of isolation and loneliness not to mention death. As their training commences they learn that there is more to the Scythedom than they originally knew including some darker secrets at its core.

My Thoughts: I absolutely loved and devoured this book! It was recommended to me by one of the booksellers at Watermark Books. I finally bought myself a copy because I could not wait for the library one to come back in. I am so happy that I did. It was fast, fun and crazy. So many different twists and turns. I loved the characters. The world is fascinating. Shusterman did a great job of creating a real Utopia but also bringing in some very dark themes as well. As soon as I finished it I immediately downloaded the digital copy from Sunflower eLibrary. If you need something to suck you in from the very beginning then this is that book!

FYI: Lots of death and violence but I don’t think it is over the top. It would be hard to avoid this topic in a book all about bringers of death.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Return

The Return by Rachel Harrison

First line: “What do you mean she’s missing?”

Summary: When one of their friends goes missing they are all shocked but Elise does not believe that Julie is dead. Even after a year and a funeral she still holds out hope that she will return. Then suddenly after two years she reappears with no memory of what happened to her.

In the hopes of learning what happened and reconnecting the friends decide to get together for a long weekend in a swanky new hotel in the mountains. Upon arrival they notice that something is wrong with Julie. She looks different. She acts different. But no one wants to bring up these changes. As the weekend continues Elise starts noticing strange happenings around the hotel. She cannot decide if it’s her imagination or something truly odd is occurring.

My Thoughts: I do not know how to feel about this book. I like it but something is not sitting well with me too. At the beginning I compared it to The Shining and Pet Sematary but as the story progressed it verged away from this. I liked the little hints of creepiness. I loved the strange hotel. But the ending was just not what I expected. It became more gory than spooky. And the final chapter was just kinda dumb.

The characters were a little bland. I liked Elise. I could relate to her. But I got two of the friends constantly confused and the fact that their names both start with M made it even more confusing.

FYI: A good start for a debut author.