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!