The Spy with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke

Okay, October is really going now. It’s chilly outside, Evil Dead is on TV right now, and my tea is seeping as we speak {as I write?}. It’s definitely time for some excellent books.

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Title: The Spy with the Red Balloon {368 pages}

Genre: YA Historical Fantasy

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

Summary:

Siblings Ilse and Wolf hide a deep secret in their blood: with it, they can work magic. And the government just found out.Blackmailed into service during World War II, Ilse lends her magic to America’s newest weapon, the atom bomb, while Wolf goes behind enemy lines to sabotage Germany’s nuclear program. It’s a dangerous mission, but if Hitler were to create the bomb first, the results would be catastrophic.

When Wolf’s plane is shot down, his entire mission is thrown into jeopardy. Wolf needs Ilse’s help to develop the magic that will keep him alive, but with a spy afoot in Ilse’s laboratory, the letters she sends to Wolf begin to look treasonous. Can Ilse prove her loyalty—and find a way to help her brother—before their time runs out?

Review:

There are some books that, once you finish reading them, you know for a fact that you’re going to read it again. And soon. Both books in the Balloonmakers series are like that. The Girl with the Red Balloon was sweet and smart, and it made my heart ache during my reading and especially after. The Spy with the Red Balloon is no different. I thought I would be upset that Katherine Locke didn’t continue the story of Ellie and Kai, but once I met Ilse and Wolf, I knew I wouldn’t be upset for long.

Ilse is a genius, a girl who lives and breathes science and magic. Wolf, her brother, is smart, but he knows he’ll never understand as much as Ilse does. He only knows that their blood can perform magical feats, and he understands that the war is closer than he thought. When the siblings are recruited for a secret mission involving Hitler and a nuclear bomb, they know that nothing will ever be the same between them. Ilse is whisked off to the picturesque hills of Tennessee while her brother is shipping off to Germany, right in the middle of the danger. The two must fight against time, racism, and a spy determined to get their way.

Let’s be honest: right now, we definitely need a heroine like Ilse. She’s strong, brave, smart, and willing to stand up to those who try to come between her and her principles. She only wants a better world to live in, one where people can be themselves and be happy. She’s idealist in that way, but she understands that this world is not kind to people like her – Jewish, queer – but she knows enough to want to change that.

Then there’s Wolf. Sweet, sensitive Wolf. This war hasn’t only been waged against his people, but it’s also torn his best friend Max from him. Once overseas, he’s sure of two things: he wants to stop Hitler and he wants to make it back home so he and Max can be together.Along the way, he learns about heartbreak and betrayal, and he sees exactly what is worth fighting for.

In a nutshell: these two siblings are badass.

Katherine Locke writes in such a way that makes me yearn for the characters to be happy while being blindingly angry at the atrocities this world has offered innocent people. She blends reality and fantasy so seamlessly that sometimes I’m like, well, yeah, of course this is how it happened, with magic balloons. She’s detailed and thorough, bringing the world alive around you. And the way she writes the characters! Ilse and Wolf are just two people on paper, but I would die for them. I want to wrap them in the softest blankets and tell them I’m sorry for what the world has done to them. I’m not usually like this with characters, but these two are adorable and have been through far too much for their young ages.

In case you’re not getting it, let me say it simply: The Spy with the Red Balloon should be read by everyone and anyone because it’s beautifully wonderful.

After the Fire by Will Hill

IT’S OCTOBER. Do you know what that means? Colder weather, warmer drinks, horror movies, and HALLOWEEN. I wait all year for this month, and it’s almost more exciting than my birthday {ALMOST}. I’m reading some new books this month, but I also want to highlight some of my favorite scary book, because come on. I live for this nonsense. So come on back through October, and prepare to be terrified.

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Title: After the Fire {464 pages}

Genre: YA Contemporary

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

Summary:

Before, she lived inside the fence. Before, she was never allowed to leave the property, never allowed to talk to Outsiders, never allowed to speak her mind. Because Father John controlled everything—and Father John liked rules. Disobeying Father John came with terrible consequences.

But there are lies behind Father John’s words. Outside, there are different truths.

Then came the fire.

Review:

Wow, this book. This book. I usually go for anything published by Sourcebooks Fire, and this was no exception. I honestly went into it sort of blind, because I only read a quick blurb about it, and to say that this book surprised me would be an understatement.

Moonbeam has only ever known one life: the one inside the fences of the Lord’s Legion with her Brothers and Sisters, led by the convincing Father John. Her father is dead, her mother is Gone, and the only true friend she has is Nate, a man who challenges Moonbeam to rethink her beliefs. When a fire tears apart the Lord’s Legion, Moonbeam awakens in a hospital, surrounded by Outsiders who only want one thing: for her to tell her story about what she saw inside the fence.

So I didn’t know that this book was about cults. Let me tell you a thing: cults are my jam. Does that sound weird? Yes it does, and it should. Since I was a kid, I’ve been terribly interested in cults, how they work, why they’re around, how people are lead into the desert/forest/wherever by one person. They’re scary, yet fascinating. Usually, most of the books about cults that I read are told from the outside: researchers or journalists telling us, after the fact, about what went on inside the compound. In After the Fire, we hear Moonbeam’s story from before and after the fire, so we get a rare glimpse inside a cult {because that is most definitely what the Lord’s Legion turned into} from the perspective of a member.

It’s terrifying and lonely and absolutely heartbreaking. I wanted to reach through the pages and shake some of the kids who followed Father John, but a shake is not what they needed. They needed help, and while the doctors were trying to give them all they needed, sometimes even that wasn’t enough. There were parts that were hard to read, and other parts that I wanted to relive forever because Moonbeam was actually happy at some points.

My favorite part was the end, and while I don’t want to spoil it, I want to say that the thing about this ending was how real it was. Most endings in books like this are too happy, the sugar sticking between your teeth and leaving a bad taste. But this ending felt like one that could really happen, one that is happening right now, and that made Moonbeam feel more real, too.

After the Fire is the perfect book to start Spooky October, and not because it’s just spooky. It’s real and scary and the kind of story that makes you think long after you turn the final page. I’m still thinking about it, even as I write this, because I know there’s more that I want to say. I’m going to be thinking about this book for the rest of the year, because I’m going to find something new in the next read and the third read and the millionth read. And it still won’t be enough.

So. Happy reading, October friends.