Book Reviews | Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

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Being the true to form introvert that I am, books have always been something I’ve taken solace in when times were tough. They’ve made me laugh harder than you’d ever expect, they’ve made me sob uncontrollably, they’ve made me rethink my entire world view, and everything in-between. There’s something really special about the fact that some words on a page can evoke such an intense response from a reader, on so many different levels. I read more than most of the people I know, but I don’t feel like you need to read a lot in order to enjoy books and be absorbed in the stories that are waiting to be read. And because of that, I always recommend that my friends read book reviews before picking a book up, to get a feel for what they are reading. I am always quick to offer my thoughts on a book when anyone asks. Its so discouraging for people to pick up a book, only to find that it doesn’t suit them or isn’t an enjoyable experience, particularly for people that may not read often. That is why I’ve decided to share my thoughts on some of the books I read on this blog. I’ve never properly reviewed a book before, at least not through the written word, but I can assure you that all of the thoughts and feelings expressed in these reviews will be my own, and that they will ALWAYS be spoiler free, unless otherwise noted in the title of the post. Without further ado, here are my thoughts on Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys.

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“In 1945, World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, almost all of them with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer toward safety. Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.
A tribute to the people of Lithuania, Poland, and East Prussia, Ruta Sepetys unearths a shockingly little-known casualty of a gruesome war, and proves that humanity can prevail, even in the darkest of hours.” – Ruta Sepetys

Long story short, I loved this book. It was everything I wanted it to be and more. I rated it 4.5/5 stars. This book was thrilling, beautiful, gripping, and perfectly told. This was one of those books that stuck with me. I kept thinking about the story and the characters, well after the last page was finished. Ruta Sepetys has this way of embedding her words into your mind and almost compelling you to think about them, and that’s something I really appreciate in an author. Even more so in a historical fiction author. It’s quite easy for writers to get wrapped up in the research side of historical fiction, and some novels can start to get a bit fuzzy, bending itself into feeling more like a textbook than an enjoyable read, and I was thankful that this did not happen with Salt to the Sea. This book pulled you in, it told you the facts of the situation but it also made you feel them. I hadn’t learned much about the voyage of the Wilhelm Gustloff in school or otherwise, so this was something new for me. The real life events surrounding the Wilhelm Gustloff are incredibly tragic, and this book details them tastefully and beautifully, but it is not a depressing story. It doesn’t leave you feeling worn out and upset, even though the events are quite sad. Instead you feel a sense of love and are able to connect with the characters that Ruta has provided. The characters are incredible as well, not just on the character development side, which is fantastic, but just the range of characters is really special. There are a variety of characters of different ages and backgrounds, and you’re able to connect to all four of our main characters effortlessly, and view the story from so many different angles.

World War II is a topic that is discussed a lot in historical fiction novels, but this book sets itself apart. It touches on events that are less prominent in the genre, and it pulls you in deep, into the inner workings of the characters within the story, in a way that most other novels of its kind simply haven’t succeeded in. Once you’ve closed this book, you will cry. You will smile. You will feel like you’ve learned something. This book will impact you in a way you may not expect it to, and you will be eagerly awaiting Ruta Sepetys’ next book just as much as the rest of us are.

I Fell in Love with Austin, Texas on the Fourth of July

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Sometimes you visit a city, and you just know. You get that little voice in the back of your mind telling you “this is a place I could stay”, or “this is somewhere I belong”. Austin gave me those thoughts, and I just knew. But let me start from the beginning…

One day, in the middle of April, I was sitting at my desk trudging on through the work day, wishing I was somewhere else, when I had an epiphany; I should take a mini vacation. Then it came down to deciding where to go, simple enough, right? Wrong. Being in the center of the country means that my options are incredibly limited, and unlimited, all at the same time. I can take a plane heading anywhere in the country in a relatively small amount of time, and I can take plenty of road trips, but most of the “desirable” places to go in the scorching heat of the summer (i.e., the beach, for obvious reasons) are quite far away. Now I’m the queen of road trips, so per usual, I opted for that, then looked at the map and just chose. Just like that. Austin, Texas is it was. My family vacationed in Texas often when I was young, so the idea of venturing there on my own this year felt comfortable and inviting. So, I grabbed a friend, and off we went!

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Driving from Kansas City to Austin wasn’t the MOST pleasant of things, but I think making that whole drive down, through the construction, traffic, and holiday travelers made driving into the city that much sweeter. I was more excited than I ever would have expected to be when I realized we were about to *finally* make our way into town. I even pulled off the road, just to capture the moment for myself, and you as well, I suppose. For anyone familiar with the city, we stayed just off East Cesar Chavez, and it was a hipster’s paradise, let me tell you. I loved it.

We were only there for the weekend, so I didn’t get the chance to do many of the things I had hoped, but I still had an amazing time. Our first stop was visiting the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, and explored for quite a while. I genuinely enjoyed learning so much about his presidency, the good and not so good parts alike. I’m someone that loves learning as much as possible about history, and this was something new for me to dig into. The library itself was quite astounding, walking up the steps towards it was a special experience all on its own, without factoring in the beautifully put together LBJ Museum that accompanied it.

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After we were satisfied with our exploration there, we decided to visit the capitol building. For any of you that may not know, or may be from a different country, in the US, we have our Nation’s Capitol in Washington D.C., but each individual state has it’s own Capitol as well. Austin happens to be the state Capitol of Texas, so the (absolutely beautiful) Texas State Capitol Building is here as well. We took quite a long walk around the grounds, and had a bit of a wander through the interior of the building as well. My favorite part, however, was simply sitting on a bench, near the front of the building, all by my lonesome. Having a tea and taking it all in, that’s what I do best.

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From there, we simply explored. For the next two days, I ate more Tex-Mex than anyone should ever eat, I grew to feel like I was a part of a new place and a new city. I went grocery shopping, I laid by the river and read a book, I chatted with strangers in a bar; I completely immersed myself if the daily life of this city, and I think thats’s what made this trip so special for me. It felt like I was visiting a home away from home, and I was genuinely sad when it came to an end.

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I may have single handedly eaten all of the avocados in Austin, and I’m not even sure I’m exaggerating.

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One of my favorite moments was sitting by the river watching the sun go down around the city. I think this will be a memory I keep close for a long time.

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One of the things I admired most about Austin was the graffiti, which might sound strange to some people. But Austin is filled with beautiful, inspiring, and interesting graffiti. The city just seems like an even more special place after seeing how many people have made their mark here in such a positive way.

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I spent a surprising amount of time in this backyard whilst I was there. The house I rented had a beautiful backyard with a comfy seating area to relax in. I definitely made use of it, particularly the incredibly comfy lounge chairs, they were perfect for reading and relaxing. These popsicles were absolutely scrumptious by the way, check out GoodPop if you’re able to get your hands on them. They’re all natural, and are honestly the most delicious frozen fruit pops I’ve ever had. I’m feeling serious withdrawal symptoms at the moment.

The final day, before we had to wake up and make our way home, was the Fourth of July. Celebrating Independence Day in Texas is not something new for me, I’ve done it a few times in my life with my family, but this was a whole new experience for me. We went fairly early in the afternoon to secure a seat near the water to watch the fireworks over the city. I expected that there would be a lot of people, and Austin didn’t disappoint me there, but what I wasn’t expecting was how much I would love getting to know all the people that happened to be sitting around me. I arrived with one friend, and left with dozens, and it made me so much more in love with the city, and so much more pleased with the trip itself.

I had a few drinks, set off a few sparklers, and chatted with more people than I have in the past month, all in one night. The fireworks were stunning, the atmosphere was incredible, and it was the perfect ending to a much needed get away.

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I hope you’re doing well, where ever you are in the world, and I wish you all the best.

-Lexie Xx

Sleepy Sundays | Don’t call it a comeback

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So, we meet again, you cute little blog you. I’ve missed this, I really have. Sometimes you forget how good something simple like this can feel, just releasing all your thoughts onto a screen, letting anyone that’s willing read everything you’ve decided to share. Life gets in the way, I’m sure you know how it goes. But today, after so much time away, I’m back. Will I stick with it? Make time for something I enjoy in life for once? Who knows, but I appreciate each and every one of you that kept following me, even as I was away for months on end. You’re beautiful and I love you.

Now, with all of that out of the way, let’s chat. After all, that’s what I always wanted to do with this blog. I wanted to get my thoughts out of my head, and written down on paper, even if that was through a keyboard on a public forum. I wanted to talk to people, interact with them, learn from them, get to know them, and become friends with them. So let me just ask, how are you? How are things going? I’m doing well. Things are going okay I suppose, all things considered. Nothing too exciting has happened in my life since we last talked. It may have even grown just a little more monotonous since then, if that’s possible. I’ve fallen into a routine; get up, go to work, come home, go to sleep, and repeat. Monday through Friday, this is my life. I wish I were able to switch it up, to add a little spice to my life. How do you do it? How do you keep your life exciting? Please, share your secrets with me Senpai.

The most exciting thing that happened to me this weekend was when my Amazon order arrived yesterday, containing a new Electric Kettle and some cupboard organizers for all of my tea; who knew life could be filled with so much excitement?! I know I didn’t! All joking aside, I was sincerely thrilled to open up my new kettle, but I digress. Maybe I’m just in a rut? That’s possible I suppose. Or maybe it’s because my birthday is just a few short weeks away, and I’m beginning to feel the pressure that comes along with it. I’ll be 23, which may not sound old or important, but there is a lot of pressure coming along with this birthday. My parent’s think I should be settled down with that “perfect someone”, thinking about getting married and starting a family, my friends think I should already be finished with college and moved into my own place, partying it up. When in reality, I’m 22, living at home, single, fighting to finish this bachelors degree, and working a full-time job that brings no joy or excitement to my life, and chasing Pokemon in my spare time. Oh goodness, this is turning into a very “woe is me” sort of post. I need to change things up, turn it around.

Maybe I should share some things that make me happy, who knows, maybe that will pull me out of this little funk I seem to be in at the moment.

One seemingly unusual thing that always makes me happy is a strange one to describe. I suppose its essentially just the wind, but it’s much more than that to me. I love that feeling, when you’re sitting outside on a slightly cooler night, in-between the summer heat and the autumn chill, reading or just watching the world go by, when the wind sweeps across your face and you feel completely calm and safe, even if just for a moment. It makes me so happy to know that moments like that exist.

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My cat is also another point of sheer happiness for me. I mean, just look at her! Look at that face! She has this way of knowing when I need her. She’s always so quick to come and snuggle with me when I’m feeling down, or ill, or upset. Even when she’s being obnoxious, or irritating, she still has a way of making me feel so genuinely happy, all the way to my core, no matter what. For instance, she is currently laying on my chest, partially blocking my access to the keyboard on my laptop, and just being a general pain, and I still smile like a fool each time I look down at her sweet little face snuggled up against my arm.

As much as my family has a tendency to be a bit overbearing and hard to handle, I’m still filled with happiness each time I remember how lucky I am to have them. After the horrible events in France, TexasMinnesota, Louisiana, Turkey, and so many more these past few weeks, I’m feeling even luckier than usual to have my family, and to know that I have people out there to fall back on and lean on when things get tough. They are all absolutely insane, pushy, and ridiculous, but I couldn’t imagine my life without them.

Lastly, one of the things that makes me happiest; daydreaming. I’ve always loved the fact that we’ve all got this ability, this superpower, to transport ourselves to another time or place in our own minds. We’re all equipped with our own mental T.A.R.D.I.S, if you will. If I’m unhappy, or feeling stuck, or sad, or anything in between, I can simply imagine that my life will take a different turn in the future, or imagine that I’ve stumbled into a new place, or just lay back, and let my daydreams guide me. There’s no limit to the amount of things I can accomplish in a daydream. No one cares how I look in a daydream. There’s no body shaming, there’s no cruelty, and there’s no fear. It’s a completely pure space, untainted by the outside world, and it is one of my biggest sources of happiness.

And with that my friends, this Sleepy Sunday post has come to a close, and I’ll have to drag myself out of bed to start my day. My tea is gone and my cup is dry. I hope you enjoyed reading this ramble that I’ve decided to put out onto the internet, and that you found something to take with you from it. Whether that be something life changing, like learning your daydreams are a T.A.R.D.I.S, or simply just the memory of how adorable my cat is, I hope you’ve had a lovely few moments here with me.

Please feel free to leave me a comment and chat with me, or check out the “Contact Me” page to send me an email. I would love to hear from you and get to know you.

I hope you’re doing well, where ever you are in the world, and I wish you all the best.

-Lexie Xx