What’s Ashley Reading?: Gilded

Gilded by Marissa Meyer

First line: All right. I will tell you the tale, how it happened in truth.

Summary: Years ago a miller wished to marry a beautiful maiden. He asked the old gods to grant him this wish. When it was granted they also bestowed a gift on the couple’s child. She would be able to tell stories so fantastical that fascinated and awed her audiences. But they were also not true.

Years later, Serilda, the child of the miller catches the attention of the feared Erlking and his wild hunt. She tells a story of her ability to spin straw into gold thread. Fascinated by her the king kidnaps her on the full moon and makes her spin or lose her life. Unfortunately, Serilda cannot actually spin straw into gold but as she worries for her life a ghost appears to her in the castle who claims he can do the task but for a price.

As the months progress, Serilda is sure that the king will find out. However, an unexpected twist happens when Serilda starts to fall in love with her mysterious helper but she knows that not everything in the enchanted castle is as it appears.

My Thoughts: I was really excited to see that Marissa Meyer was once again doing a fairy tale retelling. I loved her Cinder series. The premise, the cover and the setting all appealed to me. I knew that this would be a book I would love. I wish I was right. I did like it and most likely will read the next one but the middle was just too long. I loved the beginning. And the end was very dark and twisty. But the middle stretched out for far too long. It seemed rather repetitive.

I enjoyed Serilda’s character. Her stories were interesting. I would read just a bunch of her short stories. But when she starts to fall for Gild I felt that it was a little forced. I did not really feel the chemistry between them until near the end as some of the pieces started falling into place for the lead up to the sequel.

The ending was really dark. Much more so than Meyer’s other books. But this may be a homage to the original authors of the story of Rumpelstiltskin by the Brothers Grimm. I will be interested to see where Meyer goes in the next book with Serilda’s story.

FYI: Trigger warning: death of children.

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.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Hello, Cruel Heart

Hello, Cruel Heart by Maureen Johnson

First line: “All right, you,” a voice said.

Summary: It’s the summer of 1967 and London is swinging. Estella has spent the last four years living by her wits with her partners in crime, Horace and Jasper. She steals what she needs to survive and the fabric she loves for her clothing creations. Then by chance she meets rich siblings who take her under their wing and show her a whole new world. Dazzled by the money, food, clothes and lifestyle Estella sees the world she believes should be hers but it does come with some downsides as well.

My Thoughts: This was a fun young adult book. It is neat to see authors looking into the lives of villains. I loved that it was placed in Swinging London. The colors, people, lifestyles and music were all reminiscent of Austin Powers but for young people. I loved the way the name Cruella was introduced and her back story. It always seemed rather strange that someone’s name is Cruella but the author made it seem more natural. And that Horace and Jasper were included was great to tie it in with the original cartoon movie. I have yet to see the live action movie but I am looking forward to seeing it. Especially after reading this.

FYI: Prequel to 101 Dalmatians.

Teen Volunteer Book Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Book Review written by Maya McKinnie

Maya is sixteen years old, and a summer 2021 teen volunteer

First line of the book: “Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair Family. No one is a criminal. No one is an addict. No one is a failure.”

Summary: We Were Liars is the story of Cadence Eastman, a girl with a “perfect” family that is falling apart. Each summer they travel to a private island off the coast of Massachusetts. The Sinclair family is composed of Grandfather Harris Sinclair, the aunts: Penny, Carrie, and Bess, the littles: Will, Taft Liberty, and Bonnie, and last but not least the liars: Cadence, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat. The story centers on Cadence and her group of cousins nicknamed the liars. Cadence suffers from post-traumatic headaches ever since an accident that happened two summers ago (summer fifteen). The thing is she can’t remember anything about the events that led up to her accident. Her mother claims that she would tell her every day what happened but then the next day Cadence would simply ask again. Finally the doctors told her mother to leave it alone and that it was best if Cadence remembered on her own. The only part of the story Cadence seems to retain is that she went swimming one night in late July all alone, was later found curled up on the beach half naked, and no one knows what happened. In addition to this piece of information, she remembers bits and pieces of summer fifteen but there are a few gaps in her memory. The main plot of the story begins when Cadence returns for the first time since the incident to the island to spend three weeks of the summer with her family and beloved liars. Determinedly she makes it her goal to discover for herself the truth of what happened during summer fifteen.

Thoughts: One of the best aspects of this story is the ultimate friendship that exists between Cadence, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat. I also loved the idea of a broken family that looks perfect on the outside. Overall I thought it was really well written and I loved the unique style the author wrote in. The ending was very unexpected but I absolutely loved it and would definitely recommend it for anyone who loves a story about overcoming tragedy narrated by the main character.

Favorite Quote: “We should not accept an evil we can change.”

FYI: There is definitely some foul language but not much more than your average YA novel. This book also might be unsuitable for those who are triggered by death, grief, or fire. 

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.

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.

Anni’s Book Pick: Jacky Ha-Ha, My Life is a Joke

Jacky Ha-Ha, My life is a Joke by James Patterson

First Line: Greetings from jolly old England, darling daughters, where I am feeling anything but jolly.

Summary: Jacky Hart has found a hidden talent in the performing arts, and she’s a triple threat onstage! She wants nothing more than to act and sing all summer — but her parents have other plans for her. Jacky reluctantly signs up for a summer job in her resort town of Seaside Heights, New Jersey, where tourists come to enjoy the beach and fun carnival atmosphere. Now she has serious responsibilities like her job and babysitting her younger sisters, but Jacky longs to perform in the summer stock performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream . Can she handle all of her important commitments and still have fun with her friends — or will she learn that juggling isn’t one of her many talents? (jamespatterson.com)

My Thoughts: This book had me laughing the whole time, I enjoyed reading about Jacky and all of her summer troubles. I could not put this book down because I was always wondering ‘what will Jacky do next’. I liked this book not only because it is child appropriate, but also somewhat relatable. There were times when I would laugh and there were times when I would get worried. This book teaches several lessons, one being do not steal and another being sometimes life gets hard and we have to make choices we don’t like. I look forward to reading other books in this series.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Unwind

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

First line: “There are places you can go,” Ariana tells him, “and a guy as smart as you has a decent chance of surviving to eighteen.”

Summary: A Second Civil War was fought over the rights of reproduction. Under the new Bills of Life children between the ages of thirteen and eighteen can be unwound which means their organs will be harvested and given to patients who need new parts. Every part of the Unwind will be used so technically they are still “alive” but just in another form.

Connor has been trouble for his parents for years but he never thought that they would actually choose to unwind him. Risa is a ward of the state. She lived her whole life in a state home learning how to play classical piano but when it comes time to test her she does not measure up to the set standards. Lev was raised knowing he was born to be an Unwind. He is called a tithe. But on one fateful day these three get thrown together and their lives will change forever!

My Thoughts: I absolutely love everything that Neal Shusterman has written (at the last the ones I’ve read so far)! He is a genius. He writes books that really make a person think. It is great that there are books like this and his other series, Scythe, for kids to read. The stories deal with tough topics and decisions. And the worlds he builds are just unreal. I am blown away by his story telling and his plots.

It is easy to get caught up in the story. I was listening to this as I took a trip to Kansas City and one of the discs had trouble loading and I was yelling at it to start working. I needed to know what happened! Luckily it started playing.

Each of the characters is unique and have difficult stories to tell. Shusterman brings in minor characters that give even more insight into life in the days of Unwinds and the recipients of the organs. And at one point we get to experience the consciousness of an Unwind while he is being unwound. It was disturbing.

I cannot wait to start the next book and see how the story continues. It is scary, realistic and very thought provoking. I highly recommend this.

FYI: It does have some graphic moments and can be a little disturbing for some people.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Scavenge the Stars

Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim

First Line: The first thing Silverfish had learned on board the Brackish was how to hold a knife.

Summary: Amaya has spent seven years on a ship working off the debt her parents sold her to cover.  Just a few days before she is due to be released she rescues a man from the sea.  For her kindness he offers her the chance to get revenge on the people who have wronged her. 

As their scheme progresses she becomes entangled with the son of the wealthy merchant they intend to bring down.  The more she learns about him the harder it becomes to follow through with their plans.

My Thoughts: This is a gender swap retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.  It has a stunning cover and a fun plot.  It is always fun to read a retelling especially if it was done well.  I liked Amaya and Cayo’s interactions.  I wish that there was more of it.  Hopefully in the second book there will more.  It ended with a big cliffhanger!  I am looking forward to the sequel coming out next year!

I actually received this as the book from the Owl Crate subscription box. This was my first time participating and I loved the experience. For a fee of $29.99 plus shipping I got a box filled with bookish goodies and a new young adult book. Usually the books are signed by the author, have exclusive covers, and letters from the author. Also inside was an exclusive Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix mug, an enamel pin, The Hobbit banner, a candle, Crooked Kingdom socks, and a tiny mirror pillbox.

It was fun to splurge on something like this. I love to read YA books and I have lots of fandoms. They have new selections every month and several special edition boxes throughout the year. Plus they have added an Owl Crate Jr. edition for younger readers.

FYI: A few trigger warnings are mutilation and violence against children.

* This is my pick for category #9 (A book that features a strong female lead) for the ReadICT challenge.*