Book Review – An Ember in the Ashes

Book: An Ember in the Ashes

Author: Sabaa Tahir

If you haven’t read this one, read it. Now. Go download/buy/check out/rent it, I’ll wait. {Insert Jeopardy music here}.

Enough time? Got it? Ok. I will not spoil this book for you in my review, don’t worry. I HATE when I accidentally on purpose read or come across spoilers!

Ember in the Ashes was one of the best books I read in 2015 and reread in 2017 for book club (shout out to A Novel Bunch PGH!). I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of Ember before it was published and absolutely DEVOURED it in one sitting. No kidding; I was up until 4 a.m. desperately trying to finish this book before the matchsticks holding open my eyes snapped from the pressure.

The progression of the story started out similarly to all the other Teen/YA books I’ve read and then, BAM! It drops you off a cliff with surprise and plot twists and a great sequence of action scenes and is peppered by a budding romance.

The Martials (a sort of Roman-esque military civilization) conquered the Scholar lands (a learned people dedicated to knowledge) centuries ago. Since then, the Martials have oppressed the Scholar people and enslaved many. We meet 17-year-old Laia the night her house is raided by the Martials. When her brother is kidnapped by a Mask (a scary assassin that wears a terrifying mask), she takes matters into her own hands to get her brother back. The Resistance being led against the Martials will only help her get her brother back for a terrible price: be sold into slavery and spy on the Commandant of the Blackcliff School.

Quick side bar for those of you who have read this story and know the things Laia is forced to endure: Would you have done the same for your sibling? Let me tell you something. If someone took my brothers away from me, I would do anything and everything in my power to return them. I would let nothing stand in my way to get them back. Heaven and Earth and mountains and oceans would move.

This is where we meet Elias. Oh, Elias you tormented soul. Elias is a student at Blackcliff and is training to be one of those scary Masks which creates interesting repercussions when he meets Laia. Elias has depth. He is a hero who is fleshed out and well developed. He’s got dimension, a personality, hopes, dreams and fears unlike some other YA/Teen heroes. I enjoyed the way Tahir bounced the POVs back and forth between Laia and Elias. We got to know the mind and heart of the hero of the story instead of being told about them from the point of view of the heroine.

The thing is, though, Ember at the root isn’t about the romance or the girl discovering she is the key to overthrowing the oppressive regime. She isn’t the leader of the revolution out to kill the evil person who destroyed her life (YET. We are only on Book 2.). At its core, Ember is about courage. It’s about the power and powerlessness of hope and fear. It’s about having the audacity to hope for something impossible and doing everything in your power to attain it. Ember has this authenticity with which we see the protagonists struggle with coming to terms with what they stand for and it is glorious.

Yes, I am a shipper. I love my book power couples and my book boyfriends. This is so much more than that, though. Ember has so much more than the average Teen/YA novel. I loved it and can’t wait for the next one. Why oh why, dear Sabaa, do we have to wait until 2018?!

PS. I hear movie rights to An Ember in the Ashes were optioned. Make sure you read it before they make the movie! Bibliophiles know the book is always better.

If you liked Ember in the Ashes, you might like:

The Throne of Glass series – Sarah J. Maas (start with The Assassin’s Blade)

The Witchlands series – Susan Dennard

The Young Elites series – Marie Liu

Falling Kingdoms series – Morgan Rhoades

The Winner’s Curse series – Maire Rutkoski

Bonus Recommendation!

A Court of Thorns and Roses series – Sarah J. Maas


Book Review – Fangirl

Book: Fangirl

Author: Rainbow Rowell

My best friend wrote fanfic for the Harry Potter series when we were in high school. She is a serious Potthead; I am a serious Potthead. (PS. We are planning a best friend’s trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter for October of this year and are super extra excited about it!) I’m a nerd (obviously) and a bit of a loner (a shock, I know). A book about a shy girl who writes fanfic for a series about a teen-aged wizard seems like a natural pick for me.

It took me a few tries to get started, but once I did, the pages flew by. It wasn’t so much that I LOVED the book. It was more that I wanted to find out what happened between Cath and her sister. Between Cath and her dad. I wanted to know if she got over her crippling shyness (not that I don’t relate to that. I had similar fears of the dining hall when I was a freshman in college.). I wanted to know if she ever finished the story for her creative writing class. I wanted to know if she got the guy.

The story is about Cath. She and her twin sister, Wren, go off to college, and the story follows her freshman year. There were some interesting plot-points, but nothing that I didn’t see coming a mile away. It felt done. Like I’ve read it before. It felt like every other book about a girl going off to college. From the way everyone talked about this book and recommended it, I was expecting to be blown away. To be transported to Cath’s world and left gasping for more. But it wasn’t. It didn’t. And I can’t help feeling like I am missing the point.

The parts where she read her fanfic out loud to the guy (I can’t even remember his name such is the lack of impression this book made on me), did not interest me. At all. I never do this, but I skipped (gasp!) those pages so I could get back Cath’s story and finish the book.

The dynamic between Cath and her dad was interesting, but as done in YA or NA as I like my steak (no pink!). Hello, every other  series where one parent has left or is dead. I saw shades of Twilight in the relationship between Cath and her dad which had me wondering throughout the book if it would end more remarkably.

Quick sidebar: The twins’ mom named the girls Cather and Wren. Cather Wren. Catherine. Who in the world names their twin girls Cather and Wren?! That is plain awful. Cather. Like catheter. That is the image I had in my head the whole time I was reading Fangirl.

The ending of this book left me feeling confused and unsatisfied. Not unsatisfied in that “gotta have more!” way, but in the “what the heck?!” sort of way. It didn’t feel over to me. There were storylines that weren’t wrapped up. Things that didn’t come full circle. Am I missing something? Is there another book?

It was a cute story, but not something that I would read again. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book to any of my friends as we are all in our late 20s and early 30s, but to teenagers or college ages, sure.

If you liked Fangirl, try:


Paper Towns

Eleanor & Park

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Book Review – Between Shades of Gray

Book: Between Shades of Gray

Author: Ruta Septys

Sometimes when I watch the news and see stories happening to people on the other side of the country or the world, I feel so disassociated. I say to my TV, ‘Oh that is horrible!” and then the next story comes on the TV, I go about my day and the story floats out of my mind. Have you ever read a book like that? One whose words float right through you?

Have you ever read a book that affects you so deeply they turn your dreams into scenes from the book? One whose words float through the air and into your head so that you see the character’s world through their eyes and feel what they feel? That is what reading the book, “Between Shades of Gray” was like for me. Literally. After I closed this book and laid my head down to sleep, my dreams were pervaded with the goriest imagery from Lina’s story. This book made me feel as if I have failed as a human being.

Ugh. The scene with the lice was one of the most disgusting things I have ever read. I would not like to see a depiction of that, but I would love to see Lina’s drawings. Maybe a fan of the book has created a few I haven’t found yet.

One of the things I like best about this book is something I learned only by reading the author’s note at the back of the book. The amount of research Ruta Septys completed for her work is staggering. She went to Lithuania and talked to survivors about their experiences and drew from each of them. Events portrayed in the book happened. To real people. Less than 100 years ago. There are survivors of those atrocities still alive. Knowing that made this book all the more difficult to both put down and digest. Ruta was raw, brutal and gruesome in her imagery and narration of the things Lina and her family and friends endured.

As a lover of history and culture, I was riveted to this book. As a compassionate human being, I was horrified at what they suffered. We all learned about Hitler, the Nazis, and their concentration camps, the Jewish genocide, the ghettos and Anne Frank. There are hundreds of books written about them and I have read quite a few, but this is the first book I’ve read in regards to what Stalin did to the Lithuanians, Estonians, Latvians and more.

The ending of this book (and I will NOT spoil it) left me feeling incomplete. The way Septys closed the book left me wanting more, to know more and read more the way all good books do.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone and everyone. The writing is lyrical and beautiful even when depicting some of the most disgusting and brutal imagery. The story is enthralling. The ending made me so intensely sad I cried for hours after closing the book. If you are not moved by Lina’s story, I have one question: are you a robot?

If you like this book, you might like:

Salt to the Sea

Number the Stars

The Diary of Anne Frank


Schlindler’s List

PS. As my mother works for Barnes and Noble, I am strictly a BN girl. The links above will take you to BN, not Amazon, etc.