Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Early Review: Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman

Vengeance Road
by Erin Bowman 
Read: August 22 - 25, 2015
Published:  
September 1, 2015 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Source: BEA/EW (Thank you, HMH)
Category: YA, historical fiction, gold rush, Arizona territory, revenge

When Kate Thompson’s father is killed by the notorious Rose Riders for a mysterious journal that reveals the secret location of a gold mine, the eighteen-year-old disguises herself as a boy and takes to the gritty plains looking for answers and justice. What she finds are devious strangers, dust storms, and a pair of brothers who refuse to quit riding in her shadow. But as Kate gets closer to the secrets about her family, she gets closer to the truth about herself and must decide if there's room for love in a heart so full of hate.

In the spirit of True Grit, the cutthroat days of the Wild West come to life for a new generation.
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A 5 point breakdown of Vengeance Road: 

What I love - 

1) Kate is an amazing heroine. She is straightforward and incredibly determined in her quest to avenge her father. From even the first chapter, she doesn't hesitate on her mission. But this girl isn't a machine either, and I loved seeing the emotions underneath the angry shell she's created around herself. Kate also isn't afraid to let that shell crack open around her, and despite her mission, she is adaptable and not afraid to learn or grow. This girl is my hero. 


2) The Wild West setting was tangible in this book. I felt hot and sticky and dirty along with Kate, as if the sun was beating on me just as much. This whole culture of horses, outlaws and searching for gold fascinates me, as does seeing our country in a completely different time. Learning that the story is based on legends and that some of the characters are from history, made it all more real and exciting.

3) Although the general set up of this book is straightforward - Kate is on a mission and embarks on a road trip (or horse and trail trip rather) to find the outlaws who killed her father - I was surprised how much action there is along the way. The first 60% was especially exciting, with gun fights, fires and lots of galloping horses. Plus Kate dressing as a boy and the reveal around that was great. The ending features surprising moments and a lot more Kate badassery, especially because of how she handles herself during very tense and unexpected situations.


4) One of the people Kate meets on her way is an Apache girl named Liluye. As was completely natural at that time, they start off not trusting each other at all, with deep prejudice on both sides, but I loved the slow respect that builds between them. It's subtle and doesn't overwhelm the main storyline. These two are never going to be best friends, which is appropriate for who they are, but they come to an understanding and I really appreciated how it was done. 

What I wish - 

5) I wanted a bit more from the romance in this story. Vengeance Road has a slow building relationship between Kate and one of the brothers she picks up along her journey. Thankfully there is absolutely no love triangle at all, and I do love that this book features two brothers but there's never ever question of where the romantic tension lies. I really liked the other brother in this story a lot, but for different reasons. Also, I loathe brother triangles, and I appreciate that this book completely avoids that trap. 

But I digress, back to the romance: I enjoyed watching the seeds of it grow throughout the first half of the book. However, something happens later in the second half that negatively affected my feelings about it, and I just wasn't able to connect into the relationship as strongly after that point. Despite that, I ended the book feeling better about the romance than I thought I would, which was unexpected, but good. I'll say a few more specific things under the spoiler tag below:


Final Thoughts - 

Usually the romance has a very high weight in determining how I feel about a book, but I loved Kate, this setting and the overall storyline so much that I was able to get past my issue with it enough to really love this! Also, I think most people will not struggle with the same thing as much as I did (I'll admit to being a crazy person sometimes). I'm always a fan of historical fiction, and I'm excited that there have been more YA books set in nineteenth century American West, recently. This is a great addition! 

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Early Review: The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

The Weight of Feathers
by Anna-Marie McLemore
Read: July 9 - 11, 2015
Published:  September 15, 2015 by Thomas Dunne
Source: NetGalley (Thank you, St. Martin's/Macmillan)
Category: YA, magical realism, California, 1960s

For twenty years, the Palomas and the Corbeaus have been rivals and enemies, locked in an escalating feud for over a generation. Both families make their living as traveling performers in competing shows—the Palomas swimming in mermaid exhibitions, the Corbeaus, former tightrope walkers, performing in the tallest trees they can find. 

Lace Paloma may be new to her family’s show, but she knows as well as anyone that the Corbeaus are pure magia negra, black magic from the devil himself. Simply touching one could mean death, and she's been taught from birth to keep away. But when disaster strikes the small town where both families are performing, it’s a Corbeau boy, Cluck, who saves Lace’s life. And his touch immerses her in the world of the Corbeaus, where falling for him could turn his own family against him, and one misstep can be just as dangerous on the ground as it is in the trees. 

Beautifully written, and richly imaginative, The Weight of Feathers is an utterly captivating young adult novel by a talented new voice.

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The Weight of Feathers is set in California sometime in the late 1960s. It is about two families of traveling performers who hate each other bitterly because of something that happened 20 years ago. The Corbeaus perform in trees as winged faeries, while the Paloma's wear colorful mermaid tails in the water for the public. They don't interact except to throw fists or exchange accusing words. Cluck Corbeau and Lace Paloma are caught in the middle of the feud between their families. Amidst the hatred and superstition, and all the broken pieces that swirl around them ready to cut and destroy, love blooms, and it is magic. 

Inside and out, this is a beautiful story. It is lovely and dreamy and achy and sharp all at once. The perfect read for a hot summer day. I was glued to Lace and Cluck's story: watching them find each other and discover themselves within the turmoil of their rival families. The gorgeous writing, magical realism, and timeless feel to the setting serves to heighten the experience. The dream-like third person narrative and the undefined time period (I love these elements) may cause readers to struggle to connect into the book at first, but I encourage you to keep reading and let the story sweep you into Cluck and Lace's world. 

Lace and Cluck are weighed down by superstitious and abuse by their families, and though their love seems doomed by nature of that, I saw such similarities in their characters and experiences and I was desperate for them to find a way through it all. These two are very vulnerable, and in many ways not traditionally strong characters, especially when facing their own families. If you take away the loveliness of this story, it's clear they have been emotionally and sometimes physically abused, and Lace is suffering from PTSD after an event that happened early in the book. It's hard sometimes to understand why they've stayed  with their families and accepted so much. But I loved seeing them began to fight for each other, and pick a different path. Sometimes the strongest - and most difficult - thing you can do is break away from the things determined to hold you down. 

"Her mouth found the things he'd always been but had not been allowed to be, everything in him that was dangerous and passionate. They sparked against each other like flint."*

Love Triangle Factor: NONE
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone 


*Quote from an uncorrected proof and subject to change in the final version.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Blog Tour: Of Dreams and Rust by Sarah Fine
Review + Giveaway

Find the full tour schedule below

Of Dreams and Rust
by Sarah Fine
Read: August 7 - 11, 2015
Published: August 4, 2015 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
Source: Copy from the the publisher (Thank you, S&S!)
Category: YA, Fantasy, Retelling, Duet

Series: Of Metal and Wishes book two (Review)

Book description: War erupts in this bittersweet sequel to Of Metal and Wishes, inspired by The Phantom of the Opera and called “relentlessly engrossing” by The Romantic Times.

In the year since the collapse of the slaughterhouse where Wen worked as her father’s medical assistant, she’s held all her secrets close. She works in the clinic at the weapons factory and sneaks away to nurse Bo, once the Ghost, now a boy determined to transform himself into a living machine. Their strange, fragile friendship soothes some of the ache of missing Melik, the strong-willed Noor who walked away from Wen all those months ago—but it can’t quell her fears for him.

The Noor are waging a rebellion in the west. When she overhears plans to crush Melik’s people with the powerful war machines created at the factory, Wen makes the painful decision to leave behind all she has known—including Bo—to warn them. But the farther she journeys into the warzone, the more confusing things become. A year of brutality seems to have changed Melik, and Wen has a decision to make about him and his people: How much is she willing to sacrifice to save them from complete annihilation?
 
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Story Breakdown -

Of Dreams and Rust is the sequel to Of Metal and Wishes and the conclusion to the duet. Book two begins twelve months after the end of the first, and Wen is now assisting in the clinic of the weapons factory in Gochan One. She is also secretly visiting and caring for Bo, the former Ghost of Gochan two, who hides underground behind his metal creations and wishes he could turn into a machine himself. When Wen hears about a plot to crush the Noor's rebellion with the very war machines made in her factory, she leaves everything behind to find and warn Melik. But the boy she fell for and fought to save the previous year has been hardened by war, and Wen struggles with her decision to betray her people to save his. 

What I love - 

Like Of Metal and Wishes, Of Dreams and Rust is gorgeously written, achy and atmospheric, blending light and dark: the unforgiving sharpness of metal parts and the vibrance of Noor fabrics and culture. Although we learned about the Noor people from Melik in the previous book, now Wen is able to visit their lands and see their customs firsthand. Melik's Noor are very different from Wen's Itanyai, including being much more open and expressive. I loved reading about the differences between them, and Wen's attempts to fit in and understand. 

However, the contrasts between these peoples have created many difficulties. The major one being war, and Wen is very much caught in between that. She has a healer's heart, wanting to protect and save as much as she can, but war means drawn lines, casualties and brutality on both sides. I appreciated that author Sarah Fine allowed Wen to see the darkness of war, and understand that neither side has perfectly clean hands. Wen wages an inner battle to know what to do when many of her ideals are destroyed, but her strength is shown in how she is able to reconcile these things within herself and make her own decisions about what she believes is right. Wen will never be a traditional fighter, but there is great power in her bravery and willingness to jump in and help the wounded at personal risk. I admired that so much. 

In addition to Wen, I continue to adore Melik, and I treasured getting a glimpse of where he came from and the things that have made him who he is. Melik has a much more traditional strength and leadership abilities, but I relished the moments of vulnerability he showed us, and the fact that he wasn't afraid of that side of himself. Bo is an interesting contrast to Melik, because he is determined to hide his soft spots behind a metal shell even at great personal pain. But in many ways he felt the most human to me in this story, and I connected to him for that. 

What I Wish - 

I wish I hadn't been in so much turmoil over the romance in the second half of this book. The first half of this story was a full five star for me. The intensity was high and I was incredibly proud and emotionally connected to Wen as she leaves her people and the factory and travels to somewhere unknown to warn the Noor. Then she has to adapt when nothing turns out as she expected. The romance was also lovely and painful, and there was so much delicious swoon! But then something happens just past midway - (spoiler) Bo shows up again (end spoiler) - and the third quarter of this book was focused on relationship drama that dragged me down a lot. I ended up frustrated with Wen and lost some of my emotional connection to her in the wake of her inability to be clear or decisive. However, when the action kicked up again in the final quarter, the focus shifted and Wen was more open about her decisions. Thankfully at that point the story turned around again for me. 

In Conclusion - 

Of Dreams and Rust is a solid follow up to Of Metal and Wishes, and in many ways a much stronger story for me. I love books about characters who come together though they are on opposite sides of a great chasm, and Wen's journey to help Melik and his Noor is intense and harrowing - not to mention romantic. I did have a few issues with how the Wen-Melik-Bo situation was handled in the third quarter, but it eventually worked itself out to my satisfaction. The end of this duet is heartbreaking in places but also very hopeful, and I'm glad I had the chance to meet these characters and live in their world for a little while.

Cliffhanger Scale: End of the duet
Love Triangle Factor: Mild. I'm hiding the rest of my thoughts on this below:

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About the Author

Sarah Fine is the author of several books for teens, including Of Metal and Wishes and its sequel, Of Dreams and Rust, and the Guards of the Shadowlands YA urban fantasy series. She is also the co-author (with Walter Jury) of two YA sci-fi thrillers: Scan and its sequel Burn. Sarah is also the author of the adult urban fantasy series, Servants of Fate, with the third book in the series, Fated, releasing September 2015. When Sarah’s not writing, she’s psychologizing. Sometimes she does both at the same time. The results are unpredictable.


Find Sarah: Website | Tumblr | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Pinterest

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Tour Schedule

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Giveaway


Two winners will win the set of books in this duet: 
Of Metal and Wishes & Of Dreams and Rust
(Aren't those covers just gorgeous together? I know you want them!)


If the rafflecopter code isn't showing up, click HERE for the giveaway. 


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Blog Tour: Overboard by Elizabeth Fama
Review + Excerpt + Giveaway

Find the full tour schedule HERE

Overboard was first released in 2002, and it has been reissued in 2015 with a new cover. I'm a fan of Elizabeth Fama's books, having enjoyed both Monstrous Beauty and Plus One, so I was thrilled to get a copy of Overboard for review and to be asked to join the tour. This book is shorter and skews younger than Fama's other novels, but I was no less riveted. 

Overboard
by Elizabeth Fama
Read: July 25 - 26, 2015
Published: June 9, 2015 by CreateSpace
Source: Copy from the author (Thank you!)
Category: MG/YA, survival stories, Sumatra 
Find: Goodreads | Amazon  | B&N

One moment of rashness, and fourteen-year-old Emily Slake finds herself amid hundreds of panicked and drowning people in the dark ocean waters off Sumatra. Miles from shore without a life vest, she resolves to survive. But in facing the dangers of the ocean, the desperation of her fellow survivors, and her own growing exhaustion, Emily must summon wits and endurance she's not sure she has. 

Striking out on her own, Emily encounters Isman, a frightened young Muslim boy, floating in a life vest. Together they swim for their lives, relying on Emily's physical strength and Isman's quiet faith.

Based on a true story, Overboard is both a riveting tale of survival and a sensitive portrayal of cross-cultural understanding in a time of crisis.
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My Thoughts

In Overboard we meet 14 year old Emily, living in Banda Aceh on the island of Sumatra with her doctor parents. Although she tries to fit in, Emily is lonely and desperate for her home and friends in Boston. Angry and upset over something that goes wrong at her parents' clinic, Emily takes a ferry boat to visit her Uncle Matt on the small island of Weh, without telling her parents. Weh's not that far away and Emily's sure she'll arrive there in plenty of time for Matt to phone her mom and dad before they're done with work for the day. They're usually too busy to notice her anyway. But mid crossing the overloaded, patched boat sinks and Emily and hundreds of passengers are thrown into the sea as evening arrives. Without a life jacket, Emily fights to stay alive, swimming through the night and waiting for rescue boats that don't seem to ever come. 

Overboard is less than 200 pages but manages to be both heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time. I connected to Emily right away and was able to get a feel for her life in Banda Aceh, especially the injustices she feels of being stuck there with her do-gooder parents. Personal connection is essential to my enjoyment of a 
story, and I was right there with Emily all the way through this book as she faces a host of emotions from anger, sadness and despair to hope and determination (not necessarily in that order). Emily fights with the ocean and sometimes other people and must keep swimming or die, and it is harrowing and horrifying at times. But she also has time to reflect on her life and the world, and I loved the perspective and even growth she finds through this awful experience. I think Emily finds out that she's made of much tougher stuff than she ever imagined. 

When the ferry sank, Emily was plunged into the ocean with hundreds of other people and not enough life vests or rafts for all of them. Many couldn't swim or were loaded down with heavy clothing. Women and children appear to have even less of a chance than men, and I found the subtle commentary on gender relations in this culture to be very interesting. My favorite character that Emily encounters is Isman. He becomes her companion in the ocean and they each others' support system. Through her experience with him, Emily gains a deeper appreciation for the place she lives and it's people, and realizes that helping others might come more naturally to her than she thinks.  

When I finished Overboard, I did wish for a little bit more at the end. But the more I think about it, the more I appreciate exactly how the book concluded. I think this story works great for both middle grade and YA, and I could see it as part of a book group. Or actually, I just want to discuss the story and themes with other people. Although this book was written before the earthquake and tsunami that hit Banda Aceh in 2004, that event adds another layer of information to this story's setting. 

Love triangle factor: N/A no romance (
This book doesn't have any romance, and I still loved it, which means it must be good.) 
Cliffhanger Scale: standalone

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Overboard Excerpt

"“You’re very strong,” Yaso said in his own language.

“Strong, like a bull.” She wrinkled her nose at him and made a snorting noise.

Yaso laughed and tried to snort like a bull himself.
“You are good.” She smiled.

“How old are you?” he asked.

“I am one hundred years old,” she said, sitting in the chair with a sigh. Emily had found that Indonesians often asked personal questions, and it wasn’t rude to give nonsensical, evasive answers.

“You speak Bahasa Indonesia well,” the boy said.

“That is because I have lived here for too long.”

“I know you. You’re the doctor’s daughter. You help in the clinic, like that boy, Madjid.”

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About Elizabeth Fama

Plus One was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in April, 2014. A 2015 RITA award finalist, Plus One was also a highlighted book in VOYA magazine, and was listed among the "Top 12 Young Adult Books of 2014" in the Huffington Post. 

Monstrous Beauty, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in September, 2012. It won won the 2013 Odyssey Honor Award, and was included on the 2013 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults list and the 2013 YALSA Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults list.

My first novel, Overboard (Cricket Books, 2002), was named a 2003 Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association (one of only eleven books selected unanimously by the committee that year). It received the 2002-2003 honor award from the Society of Midland Authors, and it was nominated for five state readers' choice awards (New Hampshire, Texas, Illinois, Utah, and Florida).

Find Elizabeth Fama online: Website | Twitter | Tumblr


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Giveaway


Win a paperback of Overboard
(open internationally!)
OR Click HERE for a link to the giveaway 

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