Welcome to Wittkop Reads. I am an Iowa teacher librarian in a shared middle school & high school library, and have recently begun my journey as a book reviewer. This blog will share my thoughts and updates on the Middle Grade and Young Adult books I am reading. Follow me here to keep up on what I am reading and recommending. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope that you find something interesting to add to your "To be Read" list. Happy reading!

Friday, May 12, 2017

A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi

Recommended for: Teen and Young Adult Readers

Thank you Netgalley, St. Martin's Press, and Roshani Chokshi for asking me to review a digital ARC of this book.  Because this is an Advanced Reader Copy provided for review, quotes and cover images pulled from the ARC may be subject to change.

"The key to immortality is in creating a story that will outlive you.  Each take is its own key, hiding in plain sight beneath all the things we want and all the things that eat away at us."  
--A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi

I was asked to review an ARC of this book since I read and reviewed Roshani's other book, The Star-Touched Queen.  I was actually surprised I was asked to review this because my review of her other book was not very favorable.  I almost declined because I really didn't connect to, or frankly understand, her last book.  I had taken a bit of a break from reviewing and wasn't sure this was the book to jump back in with.  I am so happy I took a chance because I truly enjoyed A Crown of Wishes.

First off, you do not need to have read her previous book The Star-Touched Queen.  A Crown of Wishes can stand alone, and does so very well.  It does take place in the same worlds, and we bump into a character or two from her previous book, but it is not necessary, and in my opinion not worth it.

A Crown of Wishes takes place in a couple different fantastical worlds and follows Gauri the Jewel Princess of Bharata and Vikram the Fox Prince of Ujijain.  The unlikely pair becomes partners in a game that could change both of their lives for better or worse.  The prize, one wish.  For each, this wish seems to be the only answer to their individual struggles.

Gauri is thrown out of her kingdom by her wicked older brother who is the Raja of Bharata.  Gauri seeks to free her people from his tyrannical reign and reunite the kingdom, and save her best friend.  She is caught in an attempt to overthrow her brother Skanda, so he sends her to Ujijain with the request that they kill her or risk angering his kingdom.

Vikram is the secretly adopted son of the king of Ujijain.  Unfortunately that secret hasn't been well kept from the other nobles and council members.  Because of his lack of royal blood, the leaders see Vikram as a puppet that they can control and blackmail.  They plan to push him aside to run the kingdom themselves.  Vikram's first task as the new ruler is to sentence the prisoner (Guari) to death in order to build goodwill with their neighboring kingdom.

Vikram has recently returned home from training, but he brings a secret with him.  He has been given an invitation to participate in the Tournament of Wishes, a magical tournament in a mythical land ruled by Kubera the Lord of Wealth.  Unfortunately he can't enter this tournament alone.  He is required to have a partner, a very specific partner.

When he meets Gauri with the plan to sentence her to death,  he knows instantly that she is that partner.  He offers her freedom in return for her partnership in the tournament.  Gauri wants nothing to do with Vikram or the tournament but sees this as her way out.  She accepts reluctantly and without the best of intentions.

From here the two begin a journey to find this mythical tournament, survive the magical trials and distractions along the way, and hope to win that coveted wish.  They meet an interesting cast of mythical enemies and even a few allies, and they discover more about themselves, their true wishes, and each other.

Overall, A Crown of Wishes was an engaging and enjoyable read.  The writing was descriptive and helped me connect to the vivid worlds that are beyond imagination. Gauri is a very strong and independent protagonist, but I loved the relationship that is formed between her and Vikram.  It was realistic, mature, and fit their characters and personalities perfectly.  Vikram was also fun to read through.  His struggles and desires were so genuine that I instantly connected to his plight.  After feeling lost, confused and overwhelmed with her previous book, A Crown of Wishes has redeemed Chokshi in my eyes, and I will definitely give her upcoming books a read.  

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Recommended for: Middle Grade, Young Adult, and all lovers of the fantastic and amazing

Thank you Netgalley, Flatiron Books, and Stephanie Garber for selecting me to review a digital ARC of this book.  Because this is an Advanced Reader Copy provided for review, quotes and cover images pulled from the ARC may be subject to change.

"Whatever you've heard about Caraval, it doesn't compare to the reality.  It's more than just a game or a performance.  It's the closest you'll find to magic in this world."  --Caraval by Stephanie Garber

First let me say, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.  Caraval has captivated my heart and soul. I am, however, struggling with my desire to express my love for this book, and telling everything about all the awesomeness within.  But at the same time I want to say absolutely nothing so as not to reveal any of the wonderful surprises, mystery, and delectable prose that awaits the reader when you open this wondrous tale.  So, how to do this without giving ANYTHING away...

This enchanting story begins with a series of childhood letters written by Scarlett, our young main character.  She and her sister have grown up with stories of the amazing and mysterious Caraval Players, and their once a year performance.  She is desperate to see them, but the only way you may attend, is by receiving a personal invitation.  Scarlett has been writing to Caraval Master Legend since she was a little girl hoping to gain an invitation for her sister and herself.  None of those letters was ever answered.

Just as she is about to get married and has given up hope, a mysterious letter arrives with a special invitation for Scarlett, her little sister Tella, and Scarlett's fiance.  Unfortunately, attending Caraval right now just isn't an option for Scarlett, her cruel father has arranged a marriage with a man she has never met, and Scarlett hopes this will be the chance she needs to get both her and Tella away from their father.  Tella, on the other hand, has every intention of finding a way for both of them to sneak away to Caraval, and she won't let anyone stop her.  

What I love about this book:  
The characters are incredibly well written, and Garber's description and enthralling writing help the reader to build an instant connection with the characters.  She exposes their emotions and feelings in such a beautiful and thoughtful way that helps the story and the character relationships flow seamlessly.  

Garber is very gifted in developing a plot that twists, turns and takes the reader on a deep and winding roller coaster.  From moments of pure excitement and awe to holding your breath and praying what you are reading is wrong Caraval is a ride you never want to stop.  Just when you think you have things all figured out, she throws in the greatest and most unexpected curve ball.  I couldn't put this book down.  I found myself wanting to spend more time on the elliptical at the gym so I could keep reading.

The conclusion of the book was simply perfect.  It wrapped up in a way that I felt incredibly satisfied. But, true to her form throughout the rest of the book, just when things seem to be going a certain way, Garber threw in one final twist that now has me ANXIOUSLY awaiting the second book.  Sending speedy writing vibes to Stephanie Garber while I not so patiently wait for book 2, and my invitation to explore the secrets of Caraval. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Frostbood by Elly Blake

Recommended for: Teen and Young Adult Readers

Thank you Netgalley, Little Brown Books for Young Readers, and Elly Blake for selecting me to review a digital ARC of this book.  Because this is an Advanced Reader Copy provided for review, quotes and cover images pulled from the ARC may be subject to change.

"There is always light in the darkness.  It may only be a pinpoint, but it is there.  Follow it and you will find your way free."                 --Frostblood by Elly Blake

I have taken a few months off from reviewing Advanced Reader Copies and just enjoyed a few books on my TBR list that has been ever growing.  I finally jumped back into reviewing with Frostblood, and I couldn't be happier I started with this one!  When I read the summary I was instantly reminded of The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, which I also enjoyed.  It has some basic similarities, but Elly Blake takes this story in a different direction. Frostbood was the perfect winter read to get me back into the reviewing mood.   

This fantasy story is set in a kingdom that is divided by blood.  The king is a powerful and vicious Frostblood who uses his power of frost and ice to rule the kingdom with fear and cruelty.  His goal is to eliminate all Firebloods from existence.  He and the previous kings have succeeded in eliminating the majority of the Firebloods and have sent troops to raid villages and torture people to find any that remain.

Seventeen year-old Ruby, lives in a small village with her mother.  She has spent her entire life trying to hide her gift.  Ruby is a Fireblood just like her grandmother.  Before she died, Ruby's grandmother was beginning to teach Ruby about their gift, its history, and how to control it.  Unfortunately she died before Ruby was able to learn much.  Because of the king and the troops searching for Firebloods, Ruby's mother has been forcing Ruby to hide her gift and not use it all.  

Frustrated at feeling controlled and not being able to learn about her powers, Ruby sneaks out to the forest to practice using her fire,  While in the forest, she spots troops headed toward her village.  She and her mother try to flee, but they are captured by the captain of the guard.  Ruby does her best to hide her fire, but the villagers turn on her and the captain kills her mother.  She is taken to a prison where she is tortured and starved to weaken her powers.

Ruby has lost hope until one night a mysterious man named Arcus and an older monk with Frostblood powers break her out of prison and take her to an Abbey in a remote area of the kingdom.  Here Ruby learns of her powers and what role she can play in helping stop the cruelty of the king.  Ruby wants revenge more than anything, and is willing to do whatever she has to, so that she can kill the king.  But, can she trust these mysterious Frostbloods?  Why would they help a Fireblood?  Why would they plot against their king?  How can she, a single young Fireblood, really kill the all powerful Frost King?

Without giving too much more away, the story continues with lots of crazy power wielding, fights, competitions, ancient evils, a bit of romance, and a lot of intense nail-biting moments.  I truly enjoyed this book and loved the two main characters who's personalities and emotions perfectly reflected their powers of fire and frost.  Ruby is a fierce and fiery character that was really fun to follow.  Arcus is mysterious dark and cold, but very intriguing as the layers get pulled back and revealed.  I like how Blake took time to develop her characters and their relationships and helped the reader to connect with them in a realistic and easy way.  The world building was well done and easy to jump into, her use of a story to help build some background was helpful and didn't feel like a huge information dump right at the beginning of the story.  It was built in throughout and didn't feel forced.  The conclusion was satisfying, but still left me wanting to read the next book in the series.

Overall, I really enjoyed this frosty read, and I am excited to continue on with the next book, Fireblood, later this year!  Thanks, Elly Blake, for a fun winter read!  

Thursday, October 13, 2016

100 Days by Nicole McInnes

Recommended for: Middle Grade, Teen and Young Adult Readers

Thank you Netgalley, MacMillan Children's Publishing Group and Nicole McInnes for selecting me to review a digital ARC of this book.  

100 Days is a novel about three very distinct characters who are leading very different lives.  Their three  lives once intersected when they were young, and now they have crossed paths again as high school students. 

Moira has always been considered, and considered herself, as the "fat girl".  She has grown up feeling left out, self-conscious, and uncomfortable in her own skin.  Her hippy parents don't seem to understand her, and her current fashion choices.  Moira has found that dressing in all dark colors and wearing caked on goth-like make-up makes her feel more comfortable.  It has also become her "armor" against the other kids making her look tough and unapproachable.  The only one who sees the true Moira is her best friend Agnes.

Agnes is the exact opposite of Moira in almost every way.  She loves pink, princesses, and all things girly.  She is also super small, because of a rare disease she was diagnosed with as a baby.  Agnes has Progeria, a disease that causes her body to age at about 10 times the normal rate.  She is almost sixteen now and her small body resembles a very old person.  She suffers from brittle bones and joints, heart conditions, and other issues that are typical to the elderly.  Her body is struggling to keep up with her, and she has already lived far longer than anyone expects with her condition.  

Boone is a big hulky guy who has always struggled with school.  Nothing academic comes easily for him and he was often teased for being "dumb".  Because of his problems with learning and a family tragedy, he also harbors a lot of anger and tends to get into trouble with his classmates.  Until just recently he spent his days in the alternative classroom where he felt very safe and was making a lot of progress academically.  Unfortunately the program was cut and Boone has been thrust back into the general population, which he hates.  At home he tries his best to be the man of the house and take care of his struggling mother and their farm, but money is extremely tight and he is struggling to keep it all together.

Moira, Agnes, and Boone's stories started with a friendship in middle school that was fractured because of an incident none of them can forget.  Now their lives have crossed again and during this 100 day glimpse into their lives we get a chance to see the 3 of them attempt to work through their personal struggles, lose themselves, find themselves, and also find each other again.

I truly enjoyed this middle school/young adult contemporary novel.  Each character was well developed, and as a reader, I felt very connected and invested in their lives.  Their distinct personalities made the dialogue believable and endearing.  McInnes balances the tough times with times of joy, humor, and self growth leaving me very satisfied with the trio and the closing of their journey together.  I will happily recommend this book to both my middle and high school readers.  

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Towers Falling by Jewel Parker-Rhodes

Recommended for: Upper Elementary & Middle Grade Readers

Thank you, Netgalley, Little Brown Books for Young Readers, and Jewel Parker-Rhodes for selecting me to review a digital ARC of this book.

Set 15 years after the terrorist attack on September 11, fifth grader, Deja, begins a new school year in a new school.  Not just any school but a school in Brooklyn that once had a view of the World Trade Center from its classroom windows.  Deja is not happy about starting a new school, so she is prepping herself to not fit in and doesn't want any new friends.

Deja is also struggling with life at home, more specifically, not at home, in a shelter.  Her family has fallen on hard times and is now living in a shelter.  Her father is depressed, angry, and appears to be constantly plagued with pain, although we are unsure if it is truly mental or physical.  Her mother has to spend her time caring for her Deja's father and trying to get work, leaving Deja to take care of herself and occupy her siblings.  

Deja's new school  is very diverse and she has classmates of many races and religions.  Her teacher introduces that their first unit will center on the the September 11th attacks.  Deja has no idea what she is talking about. She feels unsure and confused about why teachers seem uncomfortable, and some of her classmates seem to have more knowledge than others.  She also doesn't understand why her father is so upset when he finds out.

Through Deja's journey to understand what September 11th means to the country, her city, her community, and her family, she uncovers that this event hits closer to home than she would have ever thought.  As she learns about the tragedy of that day, she will gain friendships, begin to understand how that day changed everything, and understand why her dad acts the way he does.  

I really enjoyed reading this story.  At times it was heart-breaking, but always had hope.  Parker-Rhodes thoughtfully portrays what the new generation will experience as they learn about this tragic day.  She shares it all with a sensitivity that is needed for young readers.  Through Deja, the reader is shown what this day means and how it has had long lasting effects on the world around her.

I strongly recommend this book to teachers and middle grade book clubs.  This book easily lends itself to a unit on September 11th.  It will help a generation, that wasn't around when this tragedy happened, to better understand the history and impact of that very tragic day.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

And I Darken by Kiersten White

Recommended for: Young Adult/Adult Readers

Thank you Netgalley, Random House Children's, Delacorte Press and Kiersten White for selecting me to read and review a digital ARC of this book.  

"So the question becomes, Daughter of the Dragon, what will you sacrifice?  What will you let be taken away so that you, too, can have power"              
--And I Darken

It is 1435 in Transylvania on the edge of the Ottoman Empire and Constantinople.  

Ladislav (Lada) is the only daughter of Vlad Dracul, the Dragon, the ceremonial leader of Wallachia, Lada was born feisty, angry, and fierce to a meek and absent mother.  She was raised by a wet nurse who had a son of her own that was Lada's age.  The nurse's son Bogdan and Lada were inseparable and spent their time terrorizing everyone.  Above all, Lada loves her homeland and hopes to someday be a leader.  She doesn't see herself as a woman and refuses to follow the standards and rules that a young lady should.  She fights and is cruel to show that she is not weak and will take what she wants.  She sees this as the way to gain favor with her distant father.

Radu is the youngest son of Vlad Dracul.  Where Lada was feisty and fierce, Radu was meek, fearful, beautiful and tenderhearted.  He craves relationships and love, but is constantly left out, ignored and picked on by his sister and Bogdan.  He latches onto the wet nurse and does his best to fly under the radar, but hopes that one day his sister will love him.  

Lada and Radu's father is barely holding onto the last threads of power he has over the region of Transylvania in Wallachia.  He has made bad deals, gone back on his word, and has created many enemies.  When the leader of the Ottoman Empire demands the presence of Vlad and his family at his palace, Vlad knows he is in trouble.  In order to save his own skin, Vlad trades his children so he can return home and continue to rule.  Lada and Radu will remain in Erdine as a lesson to Vlad.  

The two children are abandoned in a land they do not know with customs, languages and religion different from their own.  At first they feel lost and alone, but Lada finds her niche with the Jannisaries, the guards and soldiers of the court.  She trains and connects with the soldiers and becomes very skilled and respected by the men.  Radu is beautiful and kind and becomes an instant favorite of of the tutors and other members of the court.  Lada and Radu begin to connect but still struggle to have a normal sibling relationship.  After a short time they meet a young boy their age named Mehmed. He insists that they begin joining him in his lessons and activities.  The three build a friendship and then Lada and Radu discover that Memed is one of the sons of Sultan Murad, the man who was holding them here in the Ottoman Empire.  

Despite the circumstances, both Lada and Radu connect deeply with Mehmed and forge a friendship and dependency on one another.  As they grow, this relationship becomes a triangle of uncharted feelings and confusion.  Mehmed is not really anywhere near ruling because of his older brothers, so he enjoyed the freedoms of being an extra son.  He had free time and was able to grow up without the pressures of the palace and enjoy his friendships with Lada and Radu. 

When things change and Mehmed is brought to the front of the line and thrown into the position as Sultan, everything changes.  Lada hates everything about the Ottoman Empire and still wishes desperately to return to Wallachia, but she has also fallen for Mehmed in a way she doesn't understand.  Meanwhile Radu has embraced the culture, religion, and is flourishing.  He has no desire to ever leave, and is also harboring unexpected and confusing feelings for Mehmed.  Where do they fit in and what happens when everything changes?

The plot is full of twists and turns, and White builds strong characters with compelling stories and complex emotions.  The historical setting and context are well researched, and the world she creates is realistic and intriguing.  At some points throughout the story, I felt the plot could have moved quicker, but overall I enjoyed it.  Lada is a force to be reckoned with and a fun heroine to follow, and White gives a strong dual perspective by alternating between the ferocity of Lada's narrative and the intense sensitivity of Radu's narrative.  

And I Darken is a first in a trilogy.  It leaves the reader satisfied with the conclusion, but still wanting more and looking forward to future installments.  I look forward to more from Kiersten White!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone

Recommended For: Young Adult Readers

Thank you Netgalley, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, and Carrie Firestone for selecting me to read and review a digital ARC of this book.

"You know I love volcanoes?  I love how they spew searing, deadly lava that goes on to nurture the most beautiful landscapes on earth.  It's from searing pain that the deepest beauty can sprout."

--The Loose Ends List

17 year-old Maddie O'Neill Levine has just graduated from high school and is looking forward  to spending the summer between high school and college living it up with her best friends whom she calls "the Es".  Maddie leads a charmed life with a very tight, but kind of crazy family.  Her  grandma, Astrid, is the matriarch of the family, and Maddie is extremely close to her.  As Maddie is preparing to start her summer she is summoned, along with the rest of her family, to her grandma's penthouse.  When they all arrive, Astrid drops a giant bomb on the family.  She has cancer, she is dying, and she wants them all to join her on a cruise around the world for the summer.  She plans to celebrate her life, share some special places, and go out in her own way.  She also lets them know that they will be embarking on the "Wishwell" ship for terminal patients and their families.  It allows them to travel and spend time together before choosing to end her life as their trip ends.  It is a death with dignity cruise ship!

The entire family is shocked and each handles the news in their own way.  But eventually most choose to join Grandma Astrid on her crazy cruise.  Astrid has big plans and big surprises for her family on their cruise.  She has planned the entire journey down to the smallest details.  Through their journey on the "Wishwell", we get to know Maddie's amazing and hilarious family.  We also meet other patients and their families, and share in their journey.  Maddie discovers and grows so much through this journey, she faces her fears, connects with her family, and meets not one but 2 soulmates who will change her life forever.  

I can honestly say the summary of this book drew me in, but it also scared me a bit.  I knew this book would push me out of my comfort zone and make me think more deeply about life, death and the choices we have.  It did all of these things and more!  Firestone helped me to embrace the uncomfortable topic by giving me characters to love, laugh at, and connect with on an extremely personal level.  Her mix of hilarious scenes, wit in the most random places, and the candid ways that she shares her characters life with the reader are beautiful and meaningful.  I can't recommend this book highly enough.  I loved Maddie and the amazing Astrid!  Bravo, Carrie Firestone, you made me laugh out loud, made me cry both sad and happy tears, and made my heart and mind grow with love.  I will truly miss the "Wishwell" and these wonderful characters!  I just might have to make my own "Loose Ends List".