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, April 29, 2016

The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh

Recommended for: Young Adult Readers

The Rose and the Dagger is the second and final book of The Wrath and the Dawn.  The story starts off shortly after the conclusion of The Wrath and the Dawn, and is shared through multiple characters. Ahdieh's beautiful writing and descriptive storytelling brings the reader right back into the stunning and mysterious world of Khorasan.  

Our fierce and beautiful heroine, Shahrzad, is now in the desert with her family, her first love, Tariq, and a collection of others who are organizing and preparing for an attack on the Caliph of Khorasan and his kingdom.  Shazi is torn and completely heartbroken as she tries to unravel the disaster before from inside a tent surrounded by her husband's enemies.  Her father is incoherent and holding tightly to a tattered but magical book, so she has no idea how he managed to destroy the city.  Her former love, and life-long friend is leading the uprising that is preparing to attack her husband and avenge the many deaths of daughters at his hand.  And the true love of her life, her other half, and her soul's match, Khalid, is in his palace trying to pick of the pieces of his broken city and his broken heart.  

As the many parts and characters work towards different ends the story evolves into a whirlwind of chaos.  The impending battle, how to break the curse, how to escape from camp and reunite with Khalid, new-found magical power and relics, and Jahandar's secrets keep the plot moving and the tension rising.

The addition of the magical portion of the story was just okay for me; it was a bigger part of this story, and something that I didn't love.  I sort of lost some of my intense connection to the story when the reality of it shifted.  I knew this was coming as it was alluded to in the previous book, but the magic took a backseat to the story in the first book, and I feel like it took center stage in this one.  It was super hyped and strong in some points and then a bit anti-climactic in other parts.   

Shahrzad's sister Irsa, was one of my favorite new characters.  She was fantastic, and I loved seeing her evolve from the tiny mouse-girl into a strong young woman through her relationship with Shazi and Rahim.  I also was shocked with Despina's absence and eventual role.  After reading more of her story in the novella, the Moth and the Flame I had expected to see much more of her in this book.  I kept thinking "Where the heck is Despina?", and then she showed up in the most mysterious of places.  

Since I don't want to give too much more away, I will wrap up by saying.  Bravo, Renee Ahdieh! This was a wonderful conclusion to an extremely captivating and moving tale.  I was pleased and very satisfied with how it wrapped up, and I truly enjoyed the addition of the Epilogue.  I didn't love The Rose and the Dagger quite as much as I LOVED The Wrath and the Dawn, but I was still extremely happy with it.  I am sad to say goodbye to Shazi and Khalid, but my time spent with them was breathtaking and probably one of my favorites.  I look forward to more amazing tales from Renee Ahdieh.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

Recommended for: Young Adult Readers

I am at a loss for words with this story. It truly captured my soul and marched its way to the top of my favorite books list. The world that Renee Ahdieh creates with her words is engulfing. I can honestly say I have a "book hangover" after reading this. I was so immersed in the world of Khalid and Shahrzad that I didn't want it to end. 

"One hundred lives for the one you took. One life to one dawn. Should you fail but a single morn, I shall take from you your dreams. I shall take from you your city. And I shall take from you these lives, a thousandfold." --The Wrath and the Dawn

After the death of his queen, Khalid the caliph of Khorasan, is forced to face a future no king should have. Each day for 100 days he must marry a new girl, and then the next morning he must take her life. After 71 days and 71 girls, Khalid is a shell of the boy he was before. He has steeled himself to the tasks knowing it is the only way to save his his kingdom and his people. 

Shahrzad is a fiesty and spirited young woman who just lost her best friend as a recent bride to the caliph. She is saddled with grief, but more importantly, she has made a decision. No other families with will lose their daughters, no other girls will lose their best friend to this monster of a boy-king that rules their land. She will stop this, so she volunteers to be the next wife. 

As Shahrzad meets Khalid, day 72 doesn't go like all the others. This girl volunteered. Khalid doesn't understand why anyone would volunteer. She is angry and fierce, but she chose to be here. This girl is different, and she intrigues him. Against his better judgement and his normal routine, he goes to see her on the night of their wedding to ask her why. When he arrives he gets much more than he bargained for. He sees his equal. 

Shahrzad sits in her room preparing to enact her plot to murder the caliph. As he arrives she coaxes him into her web with a story. With this story she survives the first night. As each night of stories passes, an unexpected romance grows between them. How can she be falling in love with the man who murdered her best friend? How can he stop himself from loving her and dooming his people? 

Renee Ahdieh is a master of words. The tale a kin to Arabian Nights immerses the reader in a world that is rich with color and life, and the characters are deep and realistic. This book truly captured my soul and has me begging for more.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Girl in the Well is Me by Karen Rivers

Recommended for: Middle Grade Readers

Thank you Netgalley, Algonquin Young Readers, and Karen Rivers for selecting me to read and review a digital ARC of this book.

“I thought I was going to be someone different here in Texas. I thought I was going to be someone tough and happy and sparkly and untouchable, like they are. I thought I could do that, just start over in a different way. I was wrong.” --The Girl in the Well is Me

This story literally throws you right into the well from the moment it begins. Our sweet main character, Kammie, is stuck in a well after trying to make friends with the popular girls. Kammie is the new girl and wants to make a different life for herself. She wants to start over and be someone different in her new school. To do that, she thinks she must be friends with the popular girls. Mandy, Kandy, and Sandy are those popular girls, and they tell Kammie she can be one of them if she completes initiation. Kammie agrees and ends up in a well. As we hear Kammie’s tale we quickly see that this terrible trio never had any intention of accepting Kammie. 

Through Kammie’s memories, panic, and hallucinations, we come to hear the whole tale of Kammie’s tragic move to Texas and how she comes to be stuck in the well. Her voice brought me in from the very start, and had me cracking up at multiple times throughout. The author’s portrayal of Kammie’s thoughts was brilliant and endearing. She rambles, flits from one thing to another, panics, calms herself, and jumps right into the next crazy random thought. Sometimes her thoughts move so fast, you get a little lost. But when I think about how our minds actually work and process thoughts, her writing of Kammie’s thoughts is spot on with how we actually think. Rivers’ use of Kammies memories as the vehicle to tell her tale is well done and creates a connection to the protagonist and her strife. 

As for the terrible "–andy" trio, they are HORRIBLE. Even during the moments when you expect them to snap out of the mean girl side and realize that an actual life is at stake, they still continue to be selfish, cruel and careless. The depth of bullying is astonishing and I almost felt I had to detach from the intensity of it in order to enjoy Kammie and her thoughts. 

I wish there would have been a bit more of a consequence or comeuppance for our terrible trio, but I felt somewhat satisfied with how the story wraps up. Rivers does a nice job of showing the gravity of the bullying and situation, but doing it with enough humor light-heartedness to keep the reader from becoming upset or terribly overwhelmed by the depth of the bullying. Overall, it was a decent story, it was a quick read, and Kammie was a sweet voice for the story and someone you want to cheer for. 

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne

Recommended for: Middle and YA Readers

Thank you Netgalley, Macmillian Children’s Publishing Group, and John Boyne for selecting me to read and review a digital ARC of this book.

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain begins in 1936 France with 7 year-old Pierrot, his French mother and his German father. Pierrot is a na├»ve and sweet boy who enjoys spending time with his best friend Anshel and his dog. As the climate shifts and the start of World War II looms, things start changing rapidly for Pierrot. His father is struggling with PTSD and mental health issues after his experiences in World War I and takes his own life. His mother is doing her best to make ends meet, but she becomes ill with TB and also passes away. 

After the death of his parents, Pierrot is taken in by Anshel’s family, but as a Jewish family, his mother is very uncomfortable with the tension that is arising as the World War II approaches. For Pierrot’s safety she sends him to an orphanage where he stays for a short time before his father’s sister, Aunt Beatrix, finds him and brings him to live with her. 

When Pierrot arrives at the house, he is told that this is one of the houses of the Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler. His aunt works as housekeeper there and serves Adolf and Eva Braun on their visits. 
Immediately Pierrot is given a list of very important rules and changes he must make in order to not anger, Adolf Hitler. Most importantly, and somewhat a foreshadowing of what is to come, he has to change his name to make it more German. He becomes Pieter when he is at the house. At first he struggles with the idea of changing his name, but as his character evolves, Pieter becomes a totally different person than when he was called Pierrot. 

Under the wing and influence of Adolf Hitler, Pieter turns away from his French heritage, his best friend, and honestly his soul. He becomes cold, uncaring, and entitled to a point where I truly didn’t like him at all. It actually became difficult to read his story because I wanted so badly to see a hint of the boy he was, or some sort of redeeming quality, but he continued to spiral. He was hard to stomach at times which is a different feeling as a reader. Typically you always root for and grow connected to the main character, Boyne did the exact opposite in this book. It was a very creative and pointed choice that was perfect for the topic and times. It helps the reader realize how this could have happened and how easily manipulated people were during this time under Adolf Hitler. It was hard to read, but made a big impact on me. 

The author’s thoughtful transition from Pierrot to Pieter was well done. Early on even when he was called Pieter by other characters, the author still referred to him as Pierrot, but as his character evolved, even the author switched and began calling him Pieter. 

Even after all the horrible things he had done, a (very) small part of me still hoped that things would end well, and I wasn’t disappointed by the ending. It was clever and tied things up nicely. It wasn’t a cheesy happy ending that a tiny of me longed for; it was a fitting ending for a difficult text, and I was very satisfied with how it all concluded. 

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain will be a solid addition to World War II historical fiction. It is thought-provoking and a bit uncomfortable to read, but it is a necessary piece in teaching and learning about this devastating time period in history.

Dreaming of Antigone by Robin Bridges

Recommended for: YA Readers

Thank you Netgalley and Kensington Books for selecting me to read and review a digital ARC of this book.

“My heart knocks wildly up against my ribs, so hard I think it might burst out of my chest, and I know. My sister still blames me for her death.” 
--Dreaming of Antigone

Dreaming of Antigone is a story of struggle, loss, growth, and family. After the sudden death of her twin sister, Andria tries to understand all that has happened. Iris was the outgoing one with all the friends, Iris was the athletic one, Iris had the boyfriend, Iris had it all figured out. But did she really? 

Andria is haunted each night with nightmares of her sister and awakens feeling that her sister is trying to tell her something, that she blames Andria for her death. What appears to be a perfect little family on a quiet street in Athens, is anything but. 

The characters in this story are compelling and draw you into their life. Andria and Alex are characters with depth and emotion. Their separate and connected struggle over the aftermath of losing Iris is heartfelt and honest. They make you want to cheer for them as they grow and work through their loss. Robin Bridges weaves a story that begins with a death and ends with the answers that everyone is seeking. Why is Iris gone? 

I thoroughly enjoyed this story! And as a librarian I loved that both Andria and Alex find solace and support in the library and with their awesome librarian! Cheers to Robin Bridges for including the library in a positive role in this story.

Dreambender by Ronald Kidd

Recommended for: Middle Grade Readers

Thank you Netgalley and Albert Whitman and Company for selecting me to read and review a digital ARC of this book.

You don’t know me. You don’t see me. But I am there. Watching. Helping. Bending your dreams. --Dreambender by Ronald Kidd

After a catastrophic event called “The Warming” destroys Earth as we know it. Life has begun again, but with a very different structure that is guided by “The Plan”. The plan is a specific path and rules that were created to keep the world from another “Warming,” and to help keep the people and the world safe. There are no machines, no music, no arts, nothing frivolous or creative is allowed. 

The people are divided into two separate groups that do not mingle and are separated by a wilderness called The Between. One group lives in “The City” and have no idea that there is anyone else out there. They live a very structured existence where they are directed into an appropriate occupation based on their skills and the community’s needs. There are rules, laws, curfews, and watchers who keep things in line. The people wake up go to work, go home and start again the next day. 

In “The Meadow” live the other group of people called Dreambenders. Their job is to visit the dreams of the city people each night and make sure that their dreams are in line with the goals of “The Plan”. If they do not align with the plan or show signs of ideas that would draw the people into frivolity, hope or creativity, it is the Dreambenders’ job to change their dreams and help guide their thoughts back into line. 

Callie is from the city; her role is as a computer. Her job is to work with numbers. She lives with her family, follows the rules, and knows her place in the community. But in her dreams she is beginning to feel differently. 

Jeremy is a new Dreambender from the Meadow, and he knows the rules: “Never meet the dreamer. Never harm the dreamer. Always follow the plan.” He is a natural, and quickly finds that bending dreams is something he enjoys and is good at. The others in his community see that he has a gift, and he quickly becomes the prodigy that the elders see as the future. All is going according to “The Plan” until Jeremy stumbles into Callie’s dream. A dream filled with music and hope and beauty. Music is forbidden, it is against “The Plan”, but how can something peaceful and beautiful be a bad thing? Jeremy makes a decision to not bend Callie’s dream, and this starts a ripple of changes, and begins his shift to breaking every rule and searching for what is really is right. Should a small group of people with a plan be able to control the minds and plans for the rest? Is everything he has ever known and been taught really wrong and harmful? 

As I began reading Dreambender I made instant connections to Lois Lowry’s The Giver. The two books are different but have similarities that provoke the same questions and concerns in the reader. The book is well written and the tone takes on a relaxed and dream-like feel. Even through the chaos, the author keeps a sense of calm in the reader as they are taken into a world that is completely changed after “The Warming”. Jeremy and Callie’s thoughts and journey will force readers to question what is right and what is fair. Should one person or group’s idea of what is best for the community be forced on others? What if they are doing it with the best of intentions? I recommend Dreambender to those looking to read a solid middle grade fantasy. It also will especially appeal to those who understand the power of music and arts and their impact on the world. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Welcome to Wittkop Reads

Follow me here to keep up on what I am reading and recommending.  I am excited to start posting my thoughts and reviews of the Middle School and Young Adult books I am reading.  I hope that you can find some fun things to add to your "To Be Read" list.  Happy Reading.