War and its aftermath in YA Fiction

With the ongoing war on terror, the lives and deaths of young American soldiers has become a popular topic for authors of many genres, but especially for YA authors. Here are my picks on some very good YA reads involving soldiers at or after war.

Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am by Harry Mazerdogtag

While serving in Afghanistan, Ben suffers a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and wakes up in a hospital with no idea who he is, how he got there, and why he can longer form words to make those around him understand what he needs. His family, friends, and fiancé are strangers to him. His autistic brother is the only thing familiar in his world. He is utterly lost. This book shows how war destroys the individuals and the family. How the aftermath of life-altering injuries impacts not just the injured but everyone who loves him or her. The way Mazer portrays the insecurity and frustration of an injured soldier is fantastic. I especially love the scene that lends the book its title. It’s devastating and heartbreaking and stays with you after you have finished reading.

Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick

Matt Duffy has suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury thanks to an explosion from a rocket-propelled grenade. He wakes up in a hospital in Iraq with no memory of the events that landed him there, a very decreased vocabulary, and trouble walking. As he struggles to regain his words and his mental and physical health, he has flashbacks of the explosion that leave him even more confused. Then he finds out he’s under investigation for the death of an Iraqi civilian, a civilian who is in his flashbacks, but he can’t remember how the Iraqi died or how he himself was involved. As Matt struggles to piece his memories back together, McCormick takes the reader on a journey through the loss and fear that TBI survivors and soldiers face during war.

PEPersonal Effects by E.M. Kokie

After his brother T.J. dies in Iraq, Matt’s life is a mess. Reeling from the grief, he is fighting in school and failing classes. Then T.J.’s footlocker shows up, and Matt’s world is really turned upside down. As his dead brother’s secrets spill forth  from the footlocker, Matt embarks on a journey to discover who his brother truly was, and why he left Matt feeling as if he never knew his own flesh and blood. Personal Effects is a story of loss and being lost and what it takes to find direction again and comes to terms with deceit and death.

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

Travis is home after serving in Afghanistan and watching his best friend and fellow soldier get killed, but nothing is as he left it. His parents are breaking up, his brother has stolen his girlfriend and his car, and Travis is suffering from PTSD and haunted by his friend’s death. He’s angry, he’s sad, he’s lost, he’s unsure how to communicate with the family and former friends he left behind. Everything is either overwhelming or completely detached. He’s starving for normal when he meets up with Harper, a girl he has crushed on for years. Slowly, she starts to bring him back from the brink, and, as Travis says, “I don’t know if my life will ever be completely normal again, but something like normal is a good start.”

The Thbrotherings a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt

Levi’s brother Boaz is finally back from the war except that he isn’t back, not really. Boaz has come home but something is really wrong with him. He shuts himself in his room and won’t talk to anyone. Then, he packs a bag and leaves again. This time, however, Levi follows him and sets off on a journey to rediscover Boaz and bring his brother home again. This was so well written and such a wonderful, touching story about the tragedy of war, the devastation of PTSD, and the love that can never be lost between brothers.  It’s definitely one you’ll want to read in one sitting.

If I Lie by Corrine Jackson

This story is a little different. Instead of revolving around a soldier, it revolves around the people and the secret he left behind. When Carey ships off to war, his lifelong girlfriend Quinn is left to keep his secret safe, his huge, life-altering secret. When Carey is taken prisoner by the enemy, the waiting and not knowing overwhelms Quinn and drives her into the arms of another boy. Soon a picture of her kissing someone who is most definitely not Carey is circulating through town, and everyone is turning against the girl who cheated on her POW-hero-soldier boyfriend. As her life falls apart around her, Quinn must face the decision to save herself or keep Carey’s secret and let her life become collateral damage.


VIII, historical fiction that delves into the childhood of the man who would become King Henry VIII

“A holy creature, an anointed king, a god-on-earth.” – Henry VIII describes himself in H.M. Castor’s VIII.

Welcome to the arrogance that is Henry VIII.11723911

I picked this book up for one reason. You see, I am a firm believer that a protagonist must be in some way likeable or at least have a few redeeming qualities. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how any author was going to paint Henry VIII in a likeable manner. Fortunately, for the sake of history, Castor does not share my belief about protagonists at all. She paints the young king as he most likely was: arrogant, self-righteous, and sanctimonious.

H.M. Castor delves into the life of what the future king may have been like as a child growing up with parents who survived the War of the Roses. His father, Henry VII, was a hunted man on the run for years before finally becoming king. That personal history warped him as a king and a father. Henry, who was the second son of Henry VII, is treated as an unwanted burden until the death of his brother, which leaves the formerly unnecessary Henry as next in line to inherit the throne.

In VIII, Henry overhears a prophecy that leads him to believe that God has blessed him to be the greatest king England has ever known. He spends his life trying to fulfill the prophecy, yet always failing. Castor’s book follows Henry from about the age of six up until his death, and the prophecy is the beginning of his descent into madness. Throughout the book, he sees things that are not real, hears voices, and slowly drifts farther and farther from reality. Though most historians believe that Henry VIII didn’t go mad until he was middle-aged, Castor nicely sets up how the delusions began slowly at a young age and eventually progressed as his mind and diseased body failed him.

Castor’s story is well written and, of course, includes all six of Henry’s wives and his three children. It is an interesting theory about his younger years and, since it is told from his point of view, it is an interesting exploration of what drove the mad king to his many bad decisions. I especially enjoyed the twist at the end when the real meaning of the prophecy is revealed. Don’t miss the Q&A with the author. Her answers are insightful and enhance the reading experience.

Something Terrible Has Happened!!!

I have lost the ability to commit to a book! I finished The Dream Thieves about a week ago, which was almost too good to follow up with any other book but I tried. I forced myself to read The Vincent Boys by Abbi Glines, which I thought was terrible, so I returned to an author I knew would be great and picked up Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races. The writing is great, but I just can’t get into it. Maybe I don’t find the characters compelling enough or maybe it’s the storyline. I am a horse lover. I have an old Arabian of my own, my Sammy baby. In Scorpio Races, every year horses come out of the sea, and frankly, they are some freaky horses. They eat meat and like the taste of blood, often sampling some from the humans on the beach. I think this is why I can’t get into the book. I don’t want to think of horses this way. It’s making me paranoid. Every time Sammy goes near her water bucket, I start giving her the funky eyeball. So, I set that book down.

Then I tried to read two of my Netgalley picks.

The first was No Flag by Liz Borino, an LGBT book about a guy in the Army, Mike, who establishes a relationship with a civilian bartender, Will. Part of the Will’s agreeing to date Mike is that he not renew his Army contract, which Mike agrees to but then he gets stop-lossed, and everything is downhill from there. Sounded promising. Then I got to the part where Mike wants their relationship to follow some kind of Domestic Discipline Society rule set.  Interest lost. I’m sorry, the whole thing just seems ridiculous to me, and it sounds like a cult or like an excuse for partners to physically abuse one another. And just to be sure I wasn’t making an uninformed decision, I asked my close friend Google about it. Yup, still sounds like an unhealthy relationship to me. I was done with that book.

On to Netgalley Pick #2: A Season to Remember by Carson Tinker

Now this book should have hooked me from word one. Seriously, like a large mouth bass on a bloodworm (or whatever bait they go for). First of all, it is written by Alabama Crimson Tide long snapper Carson Tinker. And I am a bleed-Crimson, life-long Tide fan. It focuses on the 2011 tornado that blew through Tuscaloosa and caused tremendous casualties and damage. The very tornado that sucked Carson out of his home and killed his girlfriend. The tornado that brought the Alabama football players closer to their community as they worked to rebuild it alongside their fans. I should be on this book like white on rice, but there’s just one teeny tiny HUGE problem. Tinker is a bit of a Bible beater, and when I say “a bit” I mean he mentions God more than a preacher giving an Easter Sunday sermon. I am as unreligious as a person can be. Having grown up on a steady diet of unwanted Catholic school and unwelcome Sunday masses, I had my fill of all things religious a long time ago. I don’t like being preached at, and all the God in this book was an immediate turn off. 

Then I thought why not go for something light and fun. I admit I get a chuckle out of Duck Dynasty, so I grabbed a copy of Uncle Si’s book Si-cology 1: Tales and Wisdom from Duck Dynasty’s Favorite Uncle. I barely made it through the first chapter, and I don’t think anything was wrong with the book.

Maybe something is wrong with me! Is it possible I am in a reading slump? Is this a medical condition? Do they medicate for this type of disorder? I’m not sure, but, readers, I need some help. I need some book recommendations. Desperately! Please post some of your must-read recommendations in the comments section. Thank you!

So, I’ve had to revise this list as I’ve read new series and new publication dates have been released…

One of the worst aspects of being a book fan is the waiting…especially when you are hooked on a series and have to wait a year or more for the next book to be published. Sometimes the waiting is bearable. Sometimes I completely forget what the previous book was about by the time the next book is published. But then there are those books that make me want to pound my head against a wall because the suspense is killing me and I cannot wait another nanosecond to find out what happens!!! So here are my most highly anticipated books for 2014.

#1 – Secret (The Elementals #4) by Brigid Kemmerer, January 2014

Okay, so technically I have already read this book because I was very, very lucky to receive an advance copy, and let me tell you, this book is absolutely worth the wait. The Elementals series is one of my top five favorites because the writing is so strong. Some series tend to rely on action scenes or paranormal clichés, but Kemmerer takes the unusual and supernatural and mixes it with characters that are fully developed and dealing with normal and not-so-normal anxieties, relationships, and hardships. Her books are so rich with emotion that I usually read them in a hold-my-breath-page-turning whirlwind. Secret is the most emotional Elementals yet, and the issues it deals with are very real and with Kemmerer’s writing style, the reader experiences every up and down that the characters go through.

#2 – Sacrifice (The Elementals #5) by Brigid Kemmerer, October 2014

The final installment of The Elementals series will be Michael’s book. As the oldest Merrick, he has been raising his brothers since the death of their parents five years earlier. Just when Michael thought he might have something special with Hannah, the trouble that has been brewing since book one has turned uglier. War is on the horizon with the Guides, and who knows where Kemmerer will lead us with the last book in her series. I can’t wait to get inside Michael’s head and see how he thinks, what he feels, and what he will do to protect his brothers from their enemies. Judging by that title, we fans best pray that the Merricks and Co. are still standing when Sacrifice ends.

#3 – The Captive Prince Volume 3 by S.U. Pacat, 2014

I love this series! I read the first two back-to-back in a don’t-sleep-don’t-eat-just-keep-reading-because-I-can’t-breath-until-I-know-what-happens storm of heart-pounding, page-turning anxiety. The series is so fresh and vivid. The descriptions put the reader right into each scene without feeling like we are wallowing in detail. The characters are bold and intriguing. Damen is a prince sold into slavery to the enemy of his beloved people and nation, but with a backstabbing brother who now rules his homeland, he has nowhere safe to flee even if he could escape the bonds of his captor. And what a captor he is. Laurent is heir to the Verethian thrown and a spoiled-beyond-belief brat. Or is he? Somewhere beneath all the vanity, is there a man who could lead his nation to glory? And what will Laurent’s reaction be when and if he finds out who the slave known as Damen really is? So far the date for publication is listed as “expected 2014.” Please, S.U. Pacat, don’t keep us waiting much longer. The anticipation is unbearable!

#4 – Untitled (The Raven Cycle 3) by Maggie Stiefvater, 2014

This series is awesome: Welsh history meets fantasy meets hot boys meets a wiccan family meets SUSPENSE! I both love and hate how Stiefvater ends each book by setting up the mystery of the next book. Love it because my reaction is always, “Holy Crap! I didn’t see that coming!” Hate it because now I have to wait and wait and wait to find out what is going to happen next. There were so many reveals in book two that I want to see explored in book three. I so enjoy getting lost in the world of Blue, Aglionby, and the Cabeswater. Where, oh where, will the search for Owain lead us next? We’ll just have to wait and see.

#5 – The King (Black Dagger Brotherhood #12) by J.R. Ward, March 25, 2014

While I have a whole lot of pet peeves about Ward and the BDB books, I am still anticipating this latest in the series because I am hoping that, with the focus on Wrath just as it was in Book 1, maybe we can finally, finally get back to the characters we have known and loved since the beginning. Don’t get me wrong, Qhuinn and Blay are my favorite couple in the series even though I didn’t think their book was as strong as it could have been….and now for the but. But I hate all these new characters Ward is introducing. I do not care about Xcor and his crew or the male and female in the last book (I don’t know their names because I skipped their chapters), and while I like Trey and his brother, I don’t need them taking up pages in a book about my two fave guys, yet, despite all that I am still excited for this next one because I hope our original favorite brothers will have a lot of page time, and I am eager to see the struggle between Wrath and Beth’s decision to have (or not have) young and where Wrath’s role as king of a dying race will take him, the brothers, and us.

#6 – Erased (Altered # 2) by Jennifer Rush, January 7, 2014

Based on hints from her blog and posts on Goodreads.com, I think a lot of this book will focus on Nick, which I am really looking forward to. He was my favorite character in the first book because he was so closed off and angry, but still likeable and intriguing. I am eager to see what new obstacles Anna and the “units” will face in this second installment. I think Anna will be a different character entirely now that she knows her past is a lie. She needs time to figure out who she is, who she can trust, and whether or not she can outrun The Branch and achieve her most basic goal: survival.

#7 – City of Heavenly Fire (Mortal Instruments #6) by Cassandra Clare

My reasons for anticipating this book are probably different from most people’s. I just want to get it over with. Seriously, by the time this book is published, we’ll have been waiting two years – 2 YEARS! – since book five was published. Which earns a big WTH from me. In the time that we have been desperately, eagerly, painfully waiting to find out the fate of Clary and Jace, Clare has published The Infernal Devices series and more Magnor Bane novellas than I can count, and we’ve been subjected to the God-awful casting of the Mortal Instruments movie. Yet, we’ve heard nothing about our starstruck, tragic lovers, and that jerkface Sebastian. So, what has this two years of waiting done to my interest in the series? Made it wane, that’s what! Now I just want to read the book so I know what happens and move on. I’m tired of waiting, Clare. Let’s get this over with!

#8 – The Shadow Throne (The Ascendance Trilogy 3) Jennifer Nielsen, March 1, 2014

Our plucky Sage, better known as King Jaron, is going to war. And that is basically all we know because there’s no synopsis, not even a sentence to give us some sort of clue. All we have to go on is the book cover, which reads, “Fight for the future…Die for the throne.” Oh yeah, that’s reassuring. Who exactly is dying for the throne? Hopefully not the King or Imogen or any of the other cast of characters we’ve come to love. Sage is going to have to pull out all the stops to win this war and win back his true love.

#9 – Pretty much anything by J.H. Trumble or Jennifer Wein

Both these authors have new books coming out in the fall, so we’ll have a long wait until they publish in 2014 (if they publish in 2014), but these are two of my favorite authors. Trumble’s books focus on relationships, usually same-sex relationships, and they are masterpieces of human emotion and reaction, and the struggle for equality and acceptance. Both Don’t Let Me Go and Where You Are were fantastic reads. And Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity was one of the most beautiful, tragic books I’ve ever read. Her characters are so strong and full of surprises and her writing style is breathtaking. Trumble and Wein’s upcoming books are both on my who-can-I-bribe-to-get-an-advance-copy-list, and anything they publish in 2014 will be on the same list.

Have I missed a book that should be listed above? If so, let me know. I am always looking for the next best read. Thanks for stopping by!

Most anticipated books of 2014 (Updated)