A moving and wonderful book about the worlds biggest maritime tragedy

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am actually a little breathless having finished this book, it’s taken my breath away and I’m feeling that awful grief you get when you have finished a book that is really special and you know your time with the characters has come to an end. I had heard wonderful things about Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys but I really had not expected to fall in love with this book quite as hard as I did.

The first thing that struck me about this book is that it is based on fact and actual events that occurred at the end of the second world war. Being naturally inquisitive I went and found out more about the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German transport ship that was transporting German military and refugees in the Baltic Sea when it was struck by torpedoes from a Russian submarine causing the loss of around 9,400 lives. This makes it the biggest maritime disaster of all time and yet I know that so few people have heard of this and now having read this story I find it even more heartbreaking.

The story is told in really short chapters. Each is only a page or two long so the story drives forward really quickly and in bursts that whilst initially giving us only snippets about our characters does help to add to the mystery about their backgrounds. We have four main characters who narrate the book, each of them has a different secret they are hiding and they are all seeking the same thing, escape from their past and a new future with the promise of reuniting with loved ones they have lost or a fresh start. As their stories intertwine we learn more about the tragedies each have faced, the difficult choices war has forced upon them and the horrors they have seen along the way.

Of our narrators 3 of the 4 are wonderful characters, the fourth is a complex and difficult one to like but his voice is equally important as he brings us the voice of the German Nazi machine as it begins to fall apart and the unhinged beliefs of the Fuhrer and how they have infiltrated the German people. We may not like him but his voice provides the context that brings the books dark undertones even more to the fore.

The stories in this book are gritty and heartbreaking. Of the Young Adult novels I’ve read about World War II this alongside The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas are probably two of the most emotional and touching. Not to say that others are not but the subject matter is difficult to read, it includes some very adult themes and doesn’t hold back during the storytelling about the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff.

I read this book in a day, I could not put it down. Once I had understood each of the characters back stories I was rooting for them, I fell in love with the surrounding characters and the character of the Shoe Poet will remain with me for a long time to come. The quote he makes on deck of the ship just before it is hit is beautiful as he tells Florian “Just when you think this was has taken everything you loved, you meet someone and realise that somehow you still have more to give” This was so poignant from an elderly man talking about the loss of his wife and how a young orphan boy gave him the strength to go on. It was such a beautiful moment in a book filled with much darkness.

It is a book I didn’t have to think about what rating it deserved, from the moment I picked it up till I finished it I was drawn in, it engaged me fully and it made me fall in love with it. Absolutely inspiring writing and I cannot wait to try more books from Ruta Sepetys.

A solid second book in The Raven Cycle, held back only by slow plot development

The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle #2) by Maggie Stiefvater
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So I’ve surpassed my good reads target for 2017 and now I’m trying really hard to continue on with series I’ve started this year trying where I can to progress them and keep myself engaged before too much time passes and I lose touch with the characters and plotlines. I read The Raven Boys a few months ago and having heard really good things about the second book in the series it made sense to delve into The Dream Thieves and spend some more time with Blue and her Aglionby boys.

Book 2 is a direct continuation from The Raven Boys and picks up immediately from where we left our characters but what becomes clear about this book is that it is going to be focused on Ronan Lynch, the darkest and most dangerous of the group of Raven Boys. With the reveal at the end of The Raven Boys that Ronan was able to take things from his dreams and bring them into the real world, we were left wondering just how this would link into the story of Gansey’s search for Glendower the lost Welsh King.

To be honest this book didn’t progress Gansey’s search for Glendower by much. This book is really about Ronan exposing his secret to his friends and then exploring how it links to his past and his father’s death and coming to terms with how to use and control the power that he has. All of this is done against the ticking timebomb of people who are trying to find the mysterious Greywarren an object which is allegedly linked to the gift Ronan has.

Initially, I struggled to gel with the book, for the first few chapters I considered putting it down and coming back to it later but slowly I kept going and then bit by bit I realised I was working my way through it and actually fairly quickly. I became more engaged by Ronan’s story and actually one of the characters I probably wasn’t meant to like became my saviour, Kavinsky. Kavinsky was like a breath of fresh air. He was a little bit dangerous, lurking around on the sidelines and then suddenly he became a vital part of this book and any chapters which featured Ronan and Kavinsky shone for me. I am sure I was not meant to like him quite so much but against the lack of plot movement in this book he was a shaft of light.

I am still struggling a little with Adam’s character as the books progress, he has gone from being quite a stand up trustworthy guy to being dark and a little isolated from the other boys. His ongoing need to do everything alone and to raise himself from the circumstances of his birth is beginning to grate a little. Yes he does work towards redemption towards the end of this book but I found I didn’t enjoy reading about him as much this time around.

I am still in love with Gansey, he didn’t feature as strongly in this book as the search for Glendower took a back seat but he is still the father figure, the one watching out for everyone and I love that he and Blue are starting to draw together and any time they were together on the page was lovely. But can we just take a moment to talk about Noah, and that kiss! That was one of the really standout moments in this book for me.

I enjoyed this book but I couldn’t give it a 5 star rating because for me Ronan’s story was almost a standalone book that could have been read apart from the Glendower story. I’m hoping that book number 3 will return to the central story and will allow our characters to be more evenly featured in the narrative.