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My name is Ardis and I am an avid reader and budding writer. I want to share my love of books with others. I work with kids and am interested in finding and creating books that will ignite the reader in everyone. Contact me at: ardis.atkins@gmail.com

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Thursday, June 14, 2018

ARC Review: Ayiti by Roxane Gay

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36739756-ayiti
Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
The debut collection from the vibrant voice of Roxane Gay is a unique blend of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, all interwoven to represent the Haitian diaspora experience.

Review:
Roxane Gay has a literary voice like no other.  In Ayiti, her book about the Haitian immigrant experience, the prose are raw and unapologetic.  This collection of short stories is filled with characters in the midst of powerful small moments.  I could have easily read a longer novel about any of these people.

What I Liked:
Characters:
Each character is fully formed and I would be happy to read a longer novel about any of them.  I was especially drawn to the characters in the story called In The Manner of Water and Light.  Three generations of women in a family deal with a traumatic history.  I wanted to know more about each of these women and how (or if) they could find peace.

In Sweet on the Tongue, a woman and her husband, must come to terms with a terrible event that happened on their honeymoon in Haiti.  The pain and shame felt by the characters bubbles just beneath the surface of every interaction.

Stories:
Each character is having some kind of interaction with an American.  While a few of these are positive moments, most have a undertone of racism.  As a person who is not Haitian, it is sobering to read that these are immigrants experiences people are having right now.

I was also very moved by complicated relationship Haitian immigrants had with their culture.  Even though they loved their country, it was so dangerous in Haiti that the people felt they had no choice but to leave.

Sexuality:
I am normally not a fan of explicit sex in books, but this was an important component of Ayiti.  The inclusion of these scenes was not gratuitous.  Each sex scene had a purpose to show the intense emotions of the characters.  But if you want to stay clear of this kind of writing, this book would not be for you.


Trigger warning for scenes of rape.

Rating: 




Release Date:  June 12th, 2018

Author:  Roxane Gay

Publisher:  Grove Press

Genre:  Fiction Short Stories

Pages: 320 pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  This is a powerful book about Haitians and the immigrant experience, and well worth taking the time to read.
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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

ARC Review: The Madonna of the Mountains by Elise Valmorbida

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35133924-the-madonna-of-the-mountains?ac=1&from_search=true
Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
A sweeping saga about womanhood, loyalty, war, religion, family, motherhood, and marriage, The Madonna of the Mountains is set in Italy during the 1920s to the 1950s, and follows its heroine, Maria Vittoria, from her girlhood in the austere Italian mountains through her marriage to a young war veteran to the birth of her four children, through the National Fascist Party Rule and ending with a decision that will forever affect her family. Maria must ensure that her family survives the harsh winters of the war, when food is scarce and allegiances are questioned. She can trust no one and fears everyone--her Fascist cousin, the madwoman from her childhood, her watchful neighbors, the Nazis and the Partisans who show up at her door. Over the decades, as Maria's children grow up and away from her, and as her marriage endures its own hardships, the novel takes us into the mind and heart of one woman who must hold her family together with resilience, love, and faith, in a world where the rules are constantly changing.

Review:
The Madonna of The Mountains is a richly drawn portrait of life from the 1920's to the 1950's.  


What I Liked:
Historical Details:
I loved all the details the author used to describe life at that time, from the type of food people ate, all the way down to the texture of clothing.  I felt immersed in this era and how it might have been like to live in these characters lives.

Characters:

Although the main character of the novel, Maria, was hard to like, she was definitely a product of the times she lived in.  Maria was raised to believe women were in need of guidance from men, were less valued then men.  This led her to be complacent as her father chooses her husband, never questioning the expectation that she would marry a stranger.  This passivity continued throughout her life.  Men used her, abused her, and blamed her when something went wrong.  Some of this was hard to read.  But I could understand that she was raised in a society that didn't value women, so she didn't feel like she ever could have needs, and wants for herself.

Maria's daughter, Amelia, was a very different person.  She was also raised with this deep oppression.  But Amelia saw the injustice of it and was defiant.  This, of course, created huge conflicts between Amelia and her mother.  Old values versus new ones, an age-old battle!  

Food:
The role of food in this book went well beyond some mouth-watering descriptions.  Food, and its meaning in the characters lives, was used to illustrate the state of the village, the Italian economy, the way a mother shows her love for her family, and so much more.  There were also many authentic period recipes at the end of the book helped the reader to be immersed in the era.

What I Was Mixed About:
Story Pacing: 
It took a while for the action to start up, with the first 20% of this book showing what everyday life would have been like.  While this was fascinating, it did make for a slow beginning.  I felt that Maria wasn't evolving in any way.  But that changed with the onslaught of WWII.  

Then Maria had to use all her strength to keep her family alive during tremendous hardships.  The choices she made were questionable, but showed how much she loved her family.  The guilt she felt manifested in her internalized dialogue with her devotional statue, The Madonna of the Mountains. 
 

The book finished strong as the war's survivors pick up the pieces of their lives. 

Trigger Warning for Domestic Violence

 
Rating: 




Release Date:  June 12th, 2018

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Author:  Elise Valmorbida

Publisher:  Spiegel & Grau

Page Length: 368 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  A detailed look at Italy before and during WWII.  This will appeal to lovers of historical fiction. 

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Monday, June 11, 2018

ARC Review: The Lost Love Letters of Henri Fournier by Rosalind Brackenbury

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36987724-the-lost-love-letters-of-henri-fournier?ac=1&from_search=true
Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
Seb Fowler has arrived in Paris to research his literary idol, Henri Fournier. It begins with an interview granted by a woman whose affair with the celebrated writer trails back to World War I. The enchanting Pauline is fragile, but her memories are alive—those of an illicit passion, of the chances she took and never regretted, and of the twists of fate that defined her unforgettable love story.

Through Pauline’s love letters, her secrets, and a lost Fournier manuscript, Seb will come to learn so much more—about Pauline, Henri, and himself. For Seb, every moment of Pauline’s past proves to be more inspiring than he could have imagined. She’s given him the courage to grab hold of whatever life offers, to cherish each risk, and to pursue love in his life.

Intimately epic, The Lost Love Letters of Henri Fournier spans generations to explore every beautiful mystery of falling in love, being in love, and losing a love—and, most important, daring to love again and discovering just how resilient the human heart can be.
 


Review:
Until I read the author's notes at the end of the book, I didn't know that the central characters in The Lost Love Letters of Henri Fournier were actual historical figures.  I had never heard of Henri Fournier (aka Alain-Fournier) or the apparent French classic Le Grand Meaulnes.  But reading this novel makes me want to add Le Grand Meaulnes to my TBR pile.

While I wish there had been much more historical detail, there is so much to like about this book. The characters and various love stories evoke strong emotions of love and loss.  Vivid scenes of French country life add to the novel's charms.  The story itself alternates between three different time periods, and three unique stories.  

What I Liked:

Characters:
The three time periods each focus on various characters, but at different times in their lives.  

In 1914, the story is about Pauline, and her intense love affair with Henri Fournier.  She begins the novel seeing marriage as a necessary business transaction.  There is no thought that love will be part of the deal.  That all changes when she meets Henri, the newly-hired secretary for her husband.  I love Pauline for how she embraces life on her own terms. She will not be content to fall into a more traditional role as a wife or as a mother looking after children.  Even when she falls deeply in love, she keeps to her goal of being an actress.

Seb is introduced in the second time period of the 1970's.  He starts out rather wimpy, letting the girl of his dreams, Annie, get away.  But he also has ambition.  When he interviews Pauline for a book he is writing, he learns he must be single-minded in his pursuit of Annie, if he is to win her heart.

In modern times, the focus is on Isa, who is Henri Fournier's great-niece.  After her divorce, she shuts herself off from love, so as not to get hurt again.  Seb, now a man in his sixties, has been asked by Isa to look over some of Henri's papers.  What will Isa learn from him?

Love Stories:

In each time period, there are the themes of love and loss.  I am usually not a fan of books that glorify extramarital affairs.  But Pauline's circumstances in the early 1900's were of a loveless marriage where both parties found love somewhere else.  Divorce was not an option.  I didn't feel that Pauline was having an affair to get back at her husband, or because she wanted some excitement.  She genuinely fell in love.  The tragedy for Pauline was due to the times she was living in.  Even if the war had not happened, I think the couple was doomed due to Henri's traditional expectations of women in relationships (hint: It's supposed to be all about him).

For Seb, he finds love, after almost losing it, but has to now find a way to live on after his beloved Annie suddenly dies.  How can he do that?  After a wonderful marriage, would it be disloyal to perhaps find love again?

French Country Life:
While I didn't think there were enough historical details, the descriptions of modern French country life were lovely.  They showed a way of living that was timeless.  I especially enjoyed the descriptions of harvesting and preparing food.  It would have been great to show such scenes in both the early 1900's and modern times which would have tied the eras together.


What I Didn't Like:
Lack of Historical Details: 
As a fan of historical novels, I look forward to all the little details that will place me, the reader, firmly in that time period.  But this book did not describe enough in the World War I era, or in the 1970's, to give me this sense of time.  I was particularly surprised by how untouched Pauline seemed to be by the Great War.  She never seemed to be hungry or experience any shortages.  Yes, the book's focus is on how one deals with love and loss, but it seemed strange that Pauline didn't feel any other hardships to go along with losing the love of her life.


Rating:  





Release Date:  June 12th, 2018

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Author:  Rosalind Brackenbury

Publisher:  Lake Union Publishing

Page Length:  318 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

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Friday, June 8, 2018

Stacking The Shelves #126 & Sunday Post #90





I am combining two great blog hops:  Stacking The Shelves (a Saturday feature by Team Tynga's Reviews), and Sunday Post (a Sunday feature by the Caffeinated Book Reviewer).  Both of these features give people a chance to post about what books they received and also an opportunity to catch a glimpse of what others are excited about.  I really enjoy seeing everyone's version of these features!   All book covers are linked to Goodreads, if you want to check them out.  If you enjoy my blog, please consider following me via Bloglovin, Networked Blogs, GFC, or by email subscription.  If you leave a comment and tell me you are a new follower, I will follow you back! 


On The Blog:

With the last week of school being so busy, I did not have any blog posts this week!

In Real Life:

This has been an eventful past few weeks, filled with both incredible happiness and deep sorrow.  While I can't talk about the sorrow part, I will be glad to share the happy...

We are planning a trip to Ireland for our 30th wedding anniversary!!!  My husband and I have traveled in many countries over our life together, but we have never been to Ireland.  Most of our spare time has been spent pouring over guidebooks and websites looking for where we want to go.  

Have you been to Ireland?  We are spending 14 nights, there in July, so if you have an suggestions, please tell me in the comments.  I would love to know what you recommend. 

New Books:
Public Library:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34323570-furyborn?ac=1&from_search=truehttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22524101-my-so-called-bollywood-life?ac=1&from_search=true





Bought:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32335977-saints-for-all-occasions?ac=1&from_search=true

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13522285-the-beginning-of-everything?ac=1&from_search=truehttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13522285-the-beginning-of-everything?ac=1&from_search=true


Page Habit Box:
 
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35707056-undead-girl-gang?ac=1&from_search=true
  
Although I think this will be a fun book to read, I was not impressed by the "extras" in the Page Habit subscription box.  There were just a few items like a colored hanging bulb, and a cheap-looking snow globe key chain.  And for that extra $20 over the retail price of the book, I could have bought a whole new novel.  Thus I have decided to cancel my subscription.
 
ARC Received:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34433755-girls-of-paper-and-fire?ac=1&from_search=true

That's it for this week.  I hope you enjoy the start of the summer.

 
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Thursday, May 31, 2018

Book Review: The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35297394-the-wicked-deep?ac=1&from_search=true

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
Welcome to the cursed town of Sparrow…

Where, two centuries ago, three sisters were sentenced to death for witchery. Stones were tied to their ankles and they were drowned in the deep waters surrounding the town.

Now, for a brief time each summer, the sisters return, stealing the bodies of three weak-hearted girls so that they may seek their revenge, luring boys into the harbor and pulling them under.

Like many locals, seventeen-year-old Penny Talbot has accepted the fate of the town. But this year, on the eve of the sisters’ return, a boy named Bo Carter arrives; unaware of the danger he has just stumbled into.

Mistrust and lies spread quickly through the salty, rain-soaked streets. The townspeople turn against one another. Penny and Bo suspect each other of hiding secrets. And death comes swiftly to those who cannot resist the call of the sisters.

But only Penny sees what others cannot. And she will be forced to choose: save Bo, or save herself.



Review:
I have been seeing this book on NetGalley for a long time, admiring the beautiful cover, but not being too tempted to request a copy.  But I became much more interested when I attended an author forum at the Bay Area Book Festival in April.  I took a chance and was not disappointed.  This was a moody, broody tale with some fun twists.

What I Liked:
Setting:
The book is set in a small town in Oregon with a dark history.  Nearly two hundred years earlier, three sisters were accused of witchcraft and drowned.  Now, in modern times, boys mysteriously drown each summer.  Could this be the sister's revenge?  

I liked the layers of history in the village.  The book alternated between modern times, and two centuries prior.  The author walked the reader around town, with many of the same shop buildings still standing, just with different businesses.  Not much has changed, including the attitudes of the villagers.  The townspeople were still weary of new people.  They were also very happy to blame young women for the drownings.

Also in the story island where much of the action takes place, close enough to the coast, but remote enough to have a very different vibe from the town.  The wind-swept vistas and rapidly changing weather seems to reflect the mood of each scene.

Characters:
The novel is centered around Penny, who lives on Lumiere island with her mother.  She motors across the bay to attend high school, and hang out with her best friend, Rose.  But since her father disappeared three years ago, her mom has spiraled into a deep depression.  Penny would love to leave the area after high school, but feels guilty about leaving her mom.  I do not usually enjoy the "missing parent" trope, but in this case I thing it served a useful purpose.  When there are difficult family situations, I think teens do feel conflicted about leaving someone behind.

I also liked Rose, Penny's best friend.  I found her character to be very realistic. While Rose and Penny were BFF's, Rose also had other friends.  Her world was not centered around Penny.  Sometimes Rose was not as clued in to what was happening with Penny, but that is real-life.  This was refreshing, as Rose didn't exist in the novel for the sole purpose of being the sidekick.

Story:
This is a story about reflecting on the past and redemption.  The town has a lot to atone for, but only some people, mostly women, seem to realize this.  I appreciated that the ghosts of the Swan sisters would be hard pressed to forgive the town for killing them.  But how long can the sister's revenge go on?  Haven't the sisters become just as bad as those who condemned them?  If you literally only live for revenge, is that really living?

I really enjoyed how the book alternated between modern times and 1820, when the Swan sisters lived.  Of course, the truth about why the girls were accused of witchcraft is much more complicated than one originally thinks.  I liked how this unfolded, and got teary when I understood what actually happened.  

Twists:
Without giving anything away, there were some fantastic twists in this novel!  Some people are not what they seem, while others have hidden motives for their actions.  These plot turns were hinted at in fun little ways, so when the big reveal happens, we can accept it. 

What I Was Mixed About:
Setting:
Here is my one quibble about the book:  I think it was a stretch to believe that a town would use the tragic drownings of young men as a tourist event.   While I liked the creativity of the various traditions the town had (bonfires marking the beginning and end of the season, ringing a bell when a body is found), I found it strange that people just accepted that boys would drown each summer.  There didn't seem to be much investigating by the police as to what was happening.  And I think tourists wouldn't be clamoring to witness these deaths.  

Rating: 




Release Date:  March 6th, 2018

Publisher:  Simon Pulse

Author:  Shea Ernshaw

Genre:  YA Fantasy

Page Length:  308 pages

Source:  Bought

Format:  Hardcover Book

Recommendations:  A fun, moody book about revenge and redemption.
 
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Monday, May 28, 2018

ARC Review: Lifelike by Jay Kristoff

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29456569-lifel1k3?ac=1&from_search=true
Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
On a floating junkyard beneath a radiation sky, a deadly secret lies buried in the scrap.

Eve isn’t looking for secrets—she’s too busy looking over her shoulder. The robot gladiator she’s just spent six months building has been reduced to a smoking wreck, and the only thing keeping her Grandpa from the grave was the fistful of credits she just lost to the bookies. To top it off, she’s discovered she can destroy electronics with the power of her mind, and the puritanical Brotherhood are building a coffin her size. If she’s ever had a worse day, Eve can’t remember it.

But when Eve discovers the ruins of an android boy named Ezekiel in the scrap pile she calls home, her entire world comes crashing down. With her best friend Lemon Fresh and her robotic conscience, Cricket, in tow, she and Ezekiel will trek across deserts of irradiated glass, infiltrate towering megacities and scour the graveyard of humanity’s greatest folly to save the ones Eve loves, and learn the dark secrets of her past.

Even if those secrets were better off staying buried.


Review:
I first heard of Jay Kristoff from the Illuminae novels he wrote with Amie Kaufman.  They were unlike anything I had read before: science-fiction that was fun, wildly creative, and even a bit romantic.  He does it again with his latest novel, Lifelike.  Set in the not too distant future, this dystopian thriller was a page turner!


What I Liked:

Setting:
Even though this is a book that is clearly set on Earth, everything is just a little bit different.  There has clearly been some catastrophic nuclear war which changed both the landscape, and society.

I loved this off-kilter version of an America gone to Hell (okay, this does sound bad, but bear with me).  Everything from the use of language (which is totally "fizzy") to new pronunciations of familiar places, creates this mood of a country with a colossal hangover.  

As one might predict, corporations rule rather than governments, and the masses are entertained with gladiator-like competitions between people in giant robots and rogue machines that have taken lives.  

Characters:
Evie is a wonderful main character.  While she is a wonderful mechanic, she is fallible.  Her rebellious nature often gets her in trouble and she barely escapes with her life, all in search of getting enough money to assist her grandpa. 

I like that her friend, Lemon, is a fully realized character with a strong backstory and has as many secrets as Evie.  She and Evie have an enviable friendship complete with their own motto, "Stronger together, together forever".  They have a shared history of harships and an admiration for Silas, Evie's grandpa.

The friends are complimented by Cricket, a small robot with a large personality.  Cricket is programmed by Silas to be the voice of reason that will (hopefully) keep Evie and Lemon out of trouble.  It is with this character that we begin to see how advanced machines have become in this future.  The girls rely of Cricket and think of it as a person, not simply a computer.

The "Lifelikes" are highly advanced robots that are self-aware.  They were created by a coporation, only to later kill everyone at that headquarters.  This subsequently got them immediately banned.

Story:
The story central theme is about what it means to be human.  Since people in the book agree that slavery is wrong, isn't it just as wrong for them to enslave machines?  This is explored in several different ways that are thought-provoking.  Are genetically-modified people the same as natural humans?  Do they have any rights?  What about a machine that has consciousness?  The tag line for the book is: Your life is not your own.  This begs the question: what is life?

Twists:
Obviously, I am not going to throw spoilers your way!  

               
via GIPHY

But I will say that there are enough twists and turns that you will start screaming out loud while reading this book.  The twists were delightful and added a new layer to the action.

Ending:
The ending, while clearly leaving room to make this a series, is very satisfying.  I have a pet peeve about books that stop in the middle of a crucial part, as if to say, "Stay tuned for the next exciting installment!".  This lack of resolution is frustrating.  But much was wrapped up by the end of this book, but with some tantalizing set ups for a future novel.

What I Didn't Like:

                
via GIPHY


 I can't wait for the next book in the series!!!


Rating: 


 

Release Date:  May 29th, 2018

Publisher:  Knopf Books for Young Readers

Author:  Jay Kristoff

Genre:  YA Science Fiction

Page Length:  416 pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  A fast-paced, exciting new series.  Full of twists that will keep you up late reading.    
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Thursday, May 24, 2018

Book Review: The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35464020-the-night-diary?ac=1&from_search=true

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
It's 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders.

Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn't know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. When Papa decides it's too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family become refugees and embark first by train but later on foot to reach her new home. The journey is long, difficult, and dangerous, and after losing her mother as a baby, Nisha can't imagine losing her homeland, too. But even if her country has been ripped apart, Nisha still believes in the possibility of putting herself back together.


Review:
As the descendant of immigrants, I am always drawn to stories of immigration.  This novel, The Night Diary, by Veera Hiranandani, chronicles the largest migration in human history when India (immediately after British rule ended in 1947) was partitioned into Muslim Pakistan, and Hindu India.  

This led to massive upheaval as people were forced to pick up their lives and move to a part of the country they were not familiar with.  Long simmering anger between the two groups led to violence and made the migration a dangerous journey.

All of this is witnessed by the main character of the book, twelve-year-old Nisha.  This was a very moving book about the refugee experience.  The setting, characters, and story all contribute to a strong feeling of empathy towards people forced to leave their homes due to political policies they have no influence over.


What I Liked:
Setting:
The time is 1947, and India is about to gain it's independence from Great Britain.  But this new freedom comes with some difficult compromises.  Although Gandhi, the famous man of peace, wants a united India, age-old tensions between Hindus and Muslims force India to split into two separate countries:  India and Pakistan.  I thought the book did a good job of explaining the political realities of the time, and how these manifested on the local level.  As the family progresses on their journey, the level of danger escalates to a point where if anyone recognizes that they are Hindu, they will be killed.

Food:
Amid this very grave subject matter, the author uses cooking to give a sense of place to delicious effect.  Nisha, a quiet child, connects with others through the common language of spices, recipes, and the routine of meal-preparation.  Wherever they live, Nisha will always have this remembrance of home.  The vivid descriptions of aromatic spices such as coriander, mustard seeds, cardamon, and turmeric made me feel I was in the kitchen with the characters.  

Main Character:
Nisha is a very shy twelve-year-old girl.  Their mother died giving birth to her and her twin brother, Amil.  This has her wondering if her father blames her for the death of her mother, and makes her very quiet around him.  With no one to really talk with, she pours her heart out in a diary (which she only writes in at night), and in cooking for others. 

Nisha sees so much injustice and is confused by it. Suddenly some of her friends are not allowed to play with her.  The household's Muslim cook, and honorary member of the family, cannot come with her to her new home.

Having Nisha as a witness to history brings into focus the very personal nature of such a conflict.  I think many middle-grade readers will empathize with Nisha.  

Story:
The story follows the family as they walk from their home in the newly founded country of Pakistan, to Jodhpur India, a distance of over two-hundred miles!  There is danger and hardships as the characters must find food and water along the way.  They also must be careful around Muslims as there was a great deal of violence between different religious groups.

The family goes from living a comfortable life where their father has a good job as a doctor, servants, and plenty to eat, to near starvation in a matter of weeks.  The fragility of life is on full display.


Rating: 





Release Date:  March 6th, 2018

Publisher:  Dial Books for Young Readers

Author:  Veera Hiranandani

Page Length:  272 Pages

Genre:  Middle-grade Historical Novel

Source:  Public Library

Format:  Hardcover Book

Recommendation:  An engaging book that captures the hope and despair of what it means to be a refugee.  Good for both middle-grade and older readers.
 
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