Miss Mabel’s School for Girls by Katie Cross

Title: Miss Mabel’s School for Girls25321022
Author: Katie Cross
Pages: 316
Year: 2015
Publisher: Antebellum Publishing
Rating: 3.5/5

Goodreads Synopsis: Never underestimate the power of a determined witch.

Letum Wood is a forest of fog and deadfall, home to the quietly famous Miss Mabel’s School for Girls, a place where young witches learn the art of magic.

Sixteen-year-old Bianca Monroe has inherited a deadly curse. Determined to break free before it kills her, she enrolls in the respected school to confront the cunning witch who cast the curse: Miss Mabel.

Bianca finds herself faced with dark magic she didn’t expect, with lessons more dangerous than she could have ever imagined. Will Bianca have the courage to save herself from the curse, or will Miss Mabel’s sinister plan be too powerful?

Miss Mabel’s School for Girls is the first novel in The Network Series, an exciting new fantasy collection. A gripping tale about the struggle to survive, it will take you to a new place and time, one you’ll never want to leave. 

I think I would have really liked this book, had I been 10 years younger and had never read or even heard of Harry Potter. It has all the elements of an intriguing fantasy book: witches, magical boarding school, a confident and determined protagonist, a purely evil villain, strong female characters, and an exciting plot. The best part? No love interest! How could I be disappointed? Fasten your seat belts, ladies and gents. We just boarded the critical train.

Bianca Monroe is a fifteen-year-old witch who has just recently enrolled into Miss Mabel’s School for Girls in order to win the competition and become the Assistant to Miss Mabel, so that she can reverse the curse put upon her family and save her own life. Sound vaguely familiar? Bianca has been trained since birth in her magical abilities in order to defeat Miss Mabel, casting spells and hexes beyond the reach of her age. Yet, she’s still completely likable and human. While it was refreshing to have a protagonist that knew what she was doing, it felt too convenient. She already knew everything she needed to know to accomplish her end goal, but simply refused to do it.

The Competition reminded me heavily of the Triwizard Tournament. However, the challenges lacked tension and seemed too easy. There isn’t any suspense because we already know who is going to win. I think the story would have been better if Bianca had lost, and had to try to figure out another way to reach her end goal.

The word progression and overall story line is very well done, and I loved that there weren’t any information dumps. Not everything about Bianca’s motivations, character, or even the witchy world in which our characters reside are given away all at once. Everything is unraveled naturally as the dialogue and action progresses, rather than giving it away in the first few chapters.

This book has the ability to transcend the masses, being clean enough for middle grade readers, but dark and angsty enough for tweens and teens. Being 24, I felt it was a bit too young for me, but I still enjoyed reading it. If I had read this when I was 14, I would have given it at least 4 stars.

P.S. This book was free on Amazon Kindle!

United States of Books: Delaware

Week eight of the United States of Books coming your way! Here’s the road map; every Friday I will bring you book recommendations from each of the fifty nifty United States. Anyone else remember that song from elementary school? We’re just going to follow that order.

Hellooo Delaware!


Beloved by Toni Morrison

6149Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. 

Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. Her new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. 

Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Belovedis a towering achievement by Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison.

 

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

5759Every weekend, in basements and parking lots across the country, young men with good white-collar jobs and absent fathers take off their shoes and shirts and fight each other barehanded for as long as they have to. Then they go back to those jobs with blackened eyes and loosened teeth and the sense that they can handle anything. Fight Club is the invention of Tyler Durden, projectionist, waiter and dark, anarchic genius. And it’s only the beginning of his plans for revenge on a world where cancer support groups have the corner on human warmth. 

 

 

 

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

18465852A dazzling, heartbreaking page-turner destined for breakout status: a novel that gives voice to millions of Americans as it tells the story of the love between a Panamanian boy and a Mexican girl: teenagers living in an apartment block of immigrant families like their own.

After their daughter Maribel suffers a near-fatal accident, the Riveras leave México and come to America. But upon settling at Redwood Apartments, a two-story cinderblock complex just off a highway in Delaware, they discover that Maribel’s recovery–the piece of the American Dream on which they’ve pinned all their hopes–will not be easy. Every task seems to confront them with language, racial, and cultural obstacles.

At Redwood also lives Mayor Toro, a high school sophomore whose family arrived from Panamá fifteen years ago. Mayor sees in Maribel something others do not: that beyond her lovely face, and beneath the damage she’s sustained, is a gentle, funny, and wise spirit. But as the two grow closer, violence casts a shadow over all their futures in America.

Peopled with deeply sympathetic characters, this poignant yet unsentimental tale of young love tells a riveting story of unflinching honesty and humanity that offers a resonant new definition of what it means to be an American. An instant classic is born.

 

The Saint of Lost Things by Christopher Castellani

19210253It is 1953 in the tight-knit Italian neighborhood in Wilmington, Delaware. Maddalena Grasso has lost her country, her family, and the man she loved by coming to America; her mercurial husband, Antonio, has lost his opportunity to realize the American Dream; their new friend, Guilio Fabbri, a shy accordion player, has lost his beloved parents. 

In the shadow of St. Anthony’s Church, named for the patron saint of lost things, the prayers of these troubled but determined people are heard, and fate and circumstances conspire to answer them in unforeseeable ways. 

With great authenticity and immediacy, The Saint of Lost Thingsevokes a bittersweet time in which the world seemed more intimate and knowable, and the American Dream simpler, nobler, and within reach.

 

West of Rehoboth by Alexs D. Pate

1087613Set in the early 1960s, West of Rehoboth is the moving story of twelve-year-old Edward Massey. Each summer, to escape the heat of Philadelphia, Edward’s family moves to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. The “coloreds only” side of a pristine resort on Rehoboth Beach offers work for his mother and a sandy playground for his sister. But for Edward — an imaginative, inquisitive boy — it offers the chance to understand his reclusive, curmudgeonly Uncle Rufus, a man caught in a swirl of hard luck and bad choices.

Forging a tenuous bond, their relationship will take Edward on a harrowing journey through Rufus’s past, facing the violence, disappointment, and frustration that shaped his destiny. Award-winning author Alexs Pate tells a mesmerizing story — of family, of coming of age, of reconciliation — revealing the extraordinary compassion and healing power of one unforgettable boy.


Next stop, Florida!

From Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon

Title: From Sand and Ash27343696
Author: Amy Harmon
Pages: 386
Year: 2016
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Rating: 5

Goodreads Synopsis: Italy, 1943—Germany occupies much of the country, placing the Jewish population in grave danger during World War II.

As children, Eva Rosselli and Angelo Bianco were raised like family but divided by circumstance and religion. As the years go by, the two find themselves falling in love. But the church calls to Angelo and, despite his deep feelings for Eva, he chooses the priesthood.

Now, more than a decade later, Angelo is a Catholic priest and Eva is a woman with nowhere to turn. With the Gestapo closing in, Angelo hides Eva within the walls of a convent, where Eva discovers she is just one of many Jews being sheltered by the Catholic Church.

But Eva can’t quietly hide, waiting for deliverance, while Angelo risks everything to keep her safe. With the world at war and so many in need, Angelo and Eva face trial after trial, choice after agonizing choice, until fate and fortune finally collide, leaving them with the most difficult decision of all.

It’s taken me a while to review this book, simply because I am at a loss for words as to how to translate my feelings for this book into a review. Amy Harmon has proved, first in The Bird and the Sword and now in From Sand and Ash, her ability to create a work of art using words alone. I want to read everything this author has ever written, even her shopping lists.

From Sand and Ash is a story of contradictions, contrasting violence with love, fear with bravery, good with evil, and death with life. Amy brings together the best and worst of humanity on these pages, evoking a relentless emotional response that will have you laughing one minute and sobbing the next. The story of Eva Roselli and Angelo Bianco is as enchanting as it is brutal. The love they share, forbidden both by duty and by law, is all consuming despite the horrific circumstances in which this love inhabits. Amy doesn’t disguise the pain and atrocities her characters face, but immerses her readers in a frightening and turbulent time in history. This book serves, not only as a story of survival and love, but as a reminder that we are all the same. No matter where we come from, where we live, who we pray to, or what we believe in, we all seek joy and purpose. This book is a harrowing demonstration of what happens when we stop trying to understand each other, when we take what makes us different and use it as a means to divide, hurt, and demean. This message is hammered in on every page, in every sentence, in every word. When we refuse to learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat it.

As someone who was raised in a Catholic family, I understood Angelo’s devotion to God. However, his self-righteousness and desire for martyrdom were very frustrating. The relationship and tension between Angelo and Eva was all consuming, and it tugged on my heartstrings to see just how much he loved her. It actually brought tears to my eyes to see just how much Angelo worshiped Eva’s mind, body, and soul. Even though he is a priest, you can’t help but root for them no matter how wrong and blasphemous it is in the eyes of the Catholic Church.

In the author’s note, Amy mentions that she researched Judaism and Catholicism, but wasn’t sure if she brought them justice. I can’t speak for Judaism, but I can say that she captured the Catholic religion beautifully.  I think both of these religions have a negative stigma to them, brought about throughout history due to a lack of understanding. Amy Harmon not only understands these religions, but she makes them beautiful. Even if you aren’t religious by any means, I think you can still appreciate the role each religion plays in this book.

My biggest, and only, complaint I had while reading this book was how lucky these characters were, to the point where it was almost unbelievable. There were times when Eva and Angelo should have gotten caught, but didn’t. There were characters that had happy endings that seemed too good to be true, endings that fell too easily into place, or were resolved too quickly. However, none of these things took away from the bigger picture. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year, and its message is still relevant for us today. Highly, highly recommended.

 

United States of Books: Connecticut

Week seven of the United States of Books coming your way! Here’s the road map; every Friday I will bring you book recommendations from each of the fifty nifty United States. Anyone else remember that song from elementary school? We’re just going to follow that order.

On our way to Connecticut!


From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

371136When suburban Claudia Kincaid decides to run away, she knows she doesn’t just want to run from somewhere, she wants to run to somewhere — to a place that is comfortable, beautiful, and, preferably, elegant. She chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Knowing her younger brother Jamie has money and thus can help her with a serious cash-flow problem, she invites him along.

Once settled into the museum, Claudia and Jamie find themselves caught up in the mystery of an angel statue that the museum purchased at auction for a bargain price of $225. The statue is possibly an early work of the Renaissance master, Michelangelo, and therefore worth millions. Is it? Or isn’t it? 

Claudia is determined to find out. Her quest leads her to Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the remarkable old woman who sold the statue, and to some equally remarkable discoveries about herself.

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

23272028The last thing Jamie Watson wants is a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a Connecticut prep school just an hour away from his estranged father. But that’s not the only complication: Sherringford is also home to Charlotte Holmes, the famous detective’s great-great-great-granddaughter, who has inherited not only Sherlock’s genius but also his volatile temperament. From everything Jamie has heard about Charlotte, it seems safer to admire her from afar.

From the moment they meet, there’s a tense energy between them, and they seem more destined to be rivals than anything else. But when a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances, ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jamie can no longer afford to keep his distance. Jamie and Charlotte are being framed for murder, and only Charlotte can clear their names. But danger is mounting and nowhere is safe—and the only people they can trust are each other.

 

Two Little Girls in Blue by Mary Higgins Clark

154423In this riveting thriller from Queen of Suspense and #1 New York Times bestselling writer Mary Higgins Clark brilliantly weaves the mystery of twin telepathy into a mother’s search for a kidnapped child, presumed dead.

When Margaret and Steve Frawley come home to Connecticut from a black-tie dinner in New York, their three-year-old twins, Kathy and Kelly, are gone. The police found the babysitter unconscious, and a ransom note from the Pied Piper demands eight million dollars. Steve’s global investment firm puts up the money, but when they go to retrieve the twins, only Kelly is in the car. The dead driver’s suicide note says he inadvertently killed Kathy.

At the memorial, Kelly tugs Margaret’s arm and says: Mommy, Kathy is very scared of that lady. She wants to come home right now. At first, only Margaret believes that the twins are communicating and that Kathy is still alive. But as Kelly’s warnings become increasingly specific and alarming, FBI agents set out on a desperate search.

 

 

 

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald

747746Today, F. Scott Fitzgerald is known for his novels, but in his lifetime, his fame stemmed from his prolific achievement as one of America’s most gifted story writers. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” a witty and fantastical satire about aging, is one of his most memorable stories. 

In 1860 Benjamin Button is born an old man and mysteriously begins aging backward. At the beginning of his life he is withered and worn, but as he continues to grow younger he embraces life — he goes to war, runs a business, falls in love, has children, goes to college and prep school, and, as his mind begins to devolve, he attends kindergarten and eventually returns to the care of his nurse. 

This strange and haunting story embodies the sharp social insight that has made Fitzgerald one of the great voices in the history of American literature.

 

 

My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier

122756All his life, Tim Meeker has looked up to his brother Sam. Sam’s smart and brave — and is now a part of the American Revolution. Not everyone in town wants to be a part of the rebellion. Most are supporters of the British — including Tim and Sam’s father.


With the war soon raging, Tim know he’ll have to make a choice — between the Revolutionaries and the Redcoats . . . and between his brother and his father.
 

 

 

 

 

 

Honorable Mentions:

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver (Film out now!)

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain


Next Stop, Delaware!

Top Five Wednesday: Books That Aren’t Set In/Inspired By The Western World

I know this is a long title, but I couldn’t figure out how else to word it and still get the point across. Talk about books that are set outside of the Western World (so outside of North America and Western Europe) or if they are SFF, books that aren’t inspired by those places (so no medieval setting fantasy!)

I completely forgot about this, but better late than never, right? RIGHT?

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

18798983In a land ruled by a murderous boy-king, each dawn brings heartache to a new family. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, is a monster. Each night he takes a new bride only to have a silk cord wrapped around her throat come morning. When sixteen-year-old Shahrzad’s dearest friend falls victim to Khalid, Shahrzad vows vengeance and volunteers to be his next bride. Shahrzad is determined not only to stay alive, but to end the caliph’s reign of terror once and for all.

Night after night, Shahrzad beguiles Khalid, weaving stories that enchant, ensuring her survival, though she knows each dawn could be her last. But something she never expected begins to happen: Khalid is nothing like what she’d imagined him to be. This monster is a boy with a tormented heart. Incredibly, Shahrzad finds herself falling in love. How is this possible? It’s an unforgivable betrayal. Still, Shahrzad has come to understand all is not as it seems in this palace of marble and stone. She resolves to uncover whatever secrets lurk and, despite her love, be ready to take Khalid’s life as retribution for the many lives he’s stolen. Can their love survive this world of stories and secrets?

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

170453
The son of a zookeeper, Pi Patel has an encyclopedic knowledge of animal behavior and a fervent love of stories. When Pi is sixteen, his family emigrates from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship, along with their zoo animals bound for new homes.

The ship sinks. Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with Richard Parker for 227 days while lost at sea.

Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Septys

12913325Lina 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.

Stolen: A Letter to my Captor by Lucy Christopher

12426027It happened like this. I was stolen from an airport. Taken from everything I knew, everything I was used to. Taken to sand and heat, dirt and danger. And he expected me to love him.

This is my story.

A letter from nowhere. 

Sixteen-year-old Gemma is kidnapped from Bangkok airport and taken to the Australian Outback. This wild and desolate landscape becomes almost a character in the book, so vividly is it described. Ty, her captor, is no stereotype. He is young, fit and completely gorgeous. This new life in the wilderness has been years in the planning. He loves only her, wants only her. Under the hot glare of the Australian sun, cut off from the world outside, can the force of his love make Gemma love him back? 

The story takes the form of a letter, written by Gemma to Ty, reflecting on those strange and disturbing months in the outback. Months when the lines between love and obsession, and love and dependency, blur until they don’t exist–almost.

Persepolis by Marjane Septrapi

persepolis-majane satrapiWise, funny, and heartbreaking, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.

Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life. Marjane’s child’s-eye view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family. Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, with laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible little girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love.


Stay tuned for scenes from the next time Christen forgets about Top Five Wednesday and posts on a Thursday like a loser.