Nothing But Sky: A Review

Grace Lafferty began performing stunts as a wing walker with her uncle Warren and his barnstorming team, The Soaring Eagles, when she was thirteen years old. Her uncle didn’t know what to do with her after becoming her guardian when the rest of her family died an outbreak of Spanish Influenza. But even Uncle Warren knows better than to try and keep Grace out of the skies.

Five years later in 1922 Grace fears that the Soaring Eagles will soon be forced out of the sky by bigger teams or stricter air regulations. Determined to keep her chosen family together Grace will do whatever it takes to get to the World Aviation Expo where they can compete to win a lucrative contract with a Hollywood studio.

Throughout her preparations for the Expo Grace fights sabotage attempts from a rival barnstorming team and her growing attraction to new mechanic Henry. Haunted by nightmarish memories from the war and a limp from a battle injury Henry is stoic, professional, and infuriating to Grace who initially distrusts him. When a routine stunt goes wrong Grace wonders if she needs more than raw ambition to plan for her future in Nothing But Sky (2018) by Amy Trueblood.

Trueblood’s historical fiction debut looks at the years immediately following WWI when veterans returning home with flying experience and decommissioned fighter planes gave birth to barnstorming performances.

Grace is an ambitious narrator and daredevil with a singular focus–often to the detriment of the team she is supposedly desperate to keep intact. Henry’s struggle with shell shock makes him one of the most developed characters but it is handled poorly being used repeatedly as a reason for the team to distrust him. The sweetness of his fledgling romance with Grace is overshadowed by these constant doubts and a general lack of nuance in Grace’s worldview.

When Henry becomes the prime suspect for the team’s sabotage it is problematic as it builds to a predictable twist when it comes to the actual culprit. Breakneck stunts and romance lend Nothing Buy Sky high action while also detracting from the rich but often under-developed historical setting.

Possible Pairings: The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a review in the February 1, 2018 issue of School Library Journal*

The Game of Love and Death: A Review

“Everybody dies. Everybody. That is the only ending for every true story.”

The Game of Love and Death by Martha BrockenbroughOver lifetimes Love and Death have carefully chosen their players, rolled the dice, and waited for any opportunity that might present itself for them to influence the Game in their favor. You probably already know some of the players: Antony and Cleopatra, Helen of Troy and Paris, even Romeo and Juliet.

Death has always won. Always.

But Love has a faith that Death can’t imagine–particularly when it comes to his latest player Henry Bishop.

A white boy adopted by a wealthy family, Henry’s life is easy even in the midst of the Depression that still grips the United States in 1937. His bright future is assured thanks to his adoptive family. All he has to do is claim it.

Even without the stakes of the Game and her role as Death’s player, Flora Saudade is an unlikely match for Henry. An African-American girl born just a few blocks from Henry, Flora supports herself as singer in Seattle’s nightclubs while she dreams of following in the footsteps of pilots like Amelia Earhart and Bessie Coleman.

With the players chosen and the dice rolled, Love and Death are prepared to watch this latest Game unfold. The odds, and the Game itself, are stacked against Henry and Flora. But with true love and free will at play maybe, just this once, anything is possible in The Game of Love and Death (2015) by Martha Brockenbrough.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Game of Love and Death works on many levels, both as a work of fantasy and one of historical fiction, to create a story that is as nuanced and introspective as its vibrant cast of diverse characters.

While the main focus remains on Flora and Henry’s fledgling relationship, Brockenbrough sets this story against a backdrop peppered with real historical events and an evocative atmosphere. This novel touches upon the question of choice and taking risks as much as the matters of love and mortality readers might expect from the title.

The less likely aspect of this story is the compelling relationship between Love and Death. These two are, perhaps, the most unexpected characters in the novel. Love with his constant optimism and devil-may-care attitude is also surprisingly ruthless as his desperation to win the Game grows. Death, meanwhile, is much more than a villain as she struggles with the burden of her role in this story.

These very different stories–of Flora and Henry but also of Love and Death themselves–weave together in unexpected ways as The Game of Love and Death build to its remarkable conclusion.

The Game of Love and Death is a heady blend of fantasy and historical fiction that plays out on a grand scale. Sure to appeal to readers of all ages. Not to be missed.

Possible Pairings: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Weight of Feathers by Anne-Marie McLemore, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Elysium Girls by Kate Pentecost, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt, Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick, The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye, Irong Cast by Destiny Soria, Nothing But Sky by Amy Trueblood,  Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin, American Street by Ibi Zoboi

*A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Updraft: A Review

Updraft by Fran WildeKirit Densira is counting the days until she can take her flight test and follow in her mother’s footsteps as a trader. Kirit dreams of making a name for herself as a merchant, like her mother, and flying between towers with goods to trade and acquire.

Kirit’s dreams are forever changed when she breaks Tower Law and exhibits a rare ability crucial to fighting the skymouths–monsters that can appear in the skies without warning.

With her family threatened by punishment for her crime, Kirit has no choice but to agree to train in the Spire to become a Singer and join them as part of the city’s lawmakers and enforcers.

During her training, Kirit will learn more about her city and its laws. She will also make a choice that could change her city forever. Or destroy it in Updraft (2015) by Fran Wilde.

Updraft is Wilde’s first novel and the start of a new series.

Updraft is filled with vivid descriptions that Kirit’s world to life with all of its dangers and wonder. Compared to the well-realized backdrop for the story, the character motivations often feel like thin contrivances meant to move the plot along.

Wilde has create a strange and eerie world where towers are grown from bone, monsters with gaping mouths prowl the sky, and wings are the only way to travel in a community that abandoned the ground long ago.

Updraft remains firmly focused on its characters throughout, particularly Kirit who is followed with a close third-person narration. Wilde does an excellent job of expanding the world she has created here and introducing characters that promise fascinating adventures in future installments.

Updraft is a solid and evocative fantasy novel. Recommended for readers who like their fantasy adventures to be slightly weird and their prose literary.

Possible Pairings: Witchlanders by Lena Coakley, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde, Eon by Allison Goodman, Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier, Soundless by Richelle Mead, The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier

*A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Black Dove, White Raven: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“They can make you stay, but they can’t make me go.”

Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth WeinEmilia and Teo have been in the soup together since their mothers first put them in an airplane as children.

After years of performing together as the Black Dove and White Raven, Rhoda finds herself alone when Delia is killed during a freak accident. Shattered by the loss of her best friend–her better half, her soul mate really–Rhoda clings to the dream Delia proposed just before her death: moving to Ethiopia where they could live together exactly as they liked without Delia’s son Teo ever being discriminated against because he is black.

When they finally get to Ethiopia, Em and Teo think maybe they can be at home there watching their mother, dreaming of flight and writing The Adventures of Black Dove and White Raven together. As long as Em and Teo have each other, they know they’ll be fine.

But Teo’s connection to Ethiopia runs deeper than anyone can guess. As war with Italy threatens to break out in the peaceful country, Em and Teo are forced to confront undesirable truths about their own lives and the legacies of their parents.

Em and Teo know they can depend on each other for anything, just like White Raven and Black Dove, but with so much changing neither of them knows if it will be enough to save themselves and the people they love in Black Dove, White Raven (2015) by Elizabeth Wein.

Find it on Bookshop.

Black Dove, White Raven is an engaging and fascinating story about a largely unknown setting and an often forgotten moment in history. Detailed historical references and vibrant descriptions bring the landscape of 1930s Ethiopia and the politics of the Second Italo-Ethiopian War to life set against the larger backdrop of a world on the brink of war.

Like Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, this novel is an epistolary one comprised of letters, essays and notebook entries written by both Emilia and Teo. Interludes between their story come in the form of Adventures that Em and Teo wrote for their alter egos White Raven and Black Dove.

Within the story of Emilia and Teo dealing with the coming war and all of its trappings, Wein also provides flashbacks to Em and Teo’s childhood both in Pennsylvania and Ethiopia. These contrasts help to highlight the idyllic life that the family finds in Ethiopia. At the same time Wein also plays with the idea that equality doesn’t always mean perfectly equal by examining the different ways Em and Teo are treated in Ethiopia and the varied obstacles they face throughout the narrative.

Black Dove, White Raven delves into the grey areas in life as Emilia and Teo try to find their proper place in Ethiopia and also come to realize that Delia’s dream for them all was a flawed one even as their mother Rhoda continues to cling to it.

Throughout the novel, both Em and Teo also often refer to their stories about Black Dove and White Raven as they try to decide what course of action to take. Wein explores the ways in which both characters, particularly Em, can manipulate different identities to get what they need.

Both Em and Teo have distinct voices in their narrations. While Emilia is often rash and flamboyant, Teo is introspective and thoughtful. Their dynamic together underscores how best friends–and here the best family–help each other to be more and achieve more together than they would accomplish apart.

Black Dove, White Raven is a powerful, beautiful story of friendship, family and learning how to soar.

Possible Pairings: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, All Fall Down by Ally Carter, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Weight of Feathers by Anne-Marie McLemore, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, Nothing But Sky by Amy Trueblood, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff, How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Rose Under Fire: A Chick Lit Wednesday

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth WeinRose Justice is a poet and a pilot. Even though she has hours and hours more flight time compared to many male pilots, Rose finds herself working as an ATA pilot transporting planes that other (men) fighter pilots will eventually use.

Rose is an American with high ideals who wants to help. The war is terrifying, much worse than she ever could have imagined back home in Pennsylvania, but doesn’t that make it even more important that Rose help however she can?

Her course changes abruptly when a routine transport goes horrible wrong and Rose is captured by Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück–a notorious women’s concentration camp.

In the camp Rose finds unimaginable horrors and obstacles but also small moments of hope through the kinship and bravery of her fellow prisoners. Even as friendships are forged amidst small moments of resistance, Rose and her friends are unsure who among them will make it out of Ravensbrück alive in Rose Under Fire (2013) by Elizabeth Wein.

Find it on Bookshop.

Rose Under Fire is a companion to Wein’s novel Code Name Verity and set about one and a half years later. Rose Under Fire is completely self-contained but readers of both will recognize familiar characters.

Like its companion, Rose Under Fire is an epistolary novel told primarily from Rose’s journal. Snippets of famous poems (notably from Edna St. Vincent Millay) are included as well as poems Rose writes throughout her time in England and Ravensbrück.

Although this novel doesn’t have the same level of suspense as Code Name Verity it remains extremely well-plotted and poignant. And that is really all that can be said about the plot without revealing too much.

Wein once again delivers a powerhouse novel about World War II in this case shining a light onto the atrocities of the Ravensbrück concentration camp while highlighting the strength and persistence of the women who were imprisoned there.

As you might have guessed, Rose Under Fire is an incredibly hard read. The novel looks unflinchingly at the heinous “experiments” Nazi doctors committed against the Polish political prisoners known as “rabbits” from their time in Ravensbrück to the war trials in Nuremburg. While the story is important and powerful, it is not to be taken lightly and readers should be mindful of that before they pick it up.

Readers who are up to the task of a difficult read with darker subject matter will find a powerful story in Rose Under Fire with an incredibly strong and inspiring heroine at the center of its story.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie,  A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Traitor by Amanda McCrina, Tamar by Mal Peet, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*

Code Name Verity: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend.”

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth WeinCode Name Verity (2012) by Elizabeth Wein (find it on Bookshop) is a strange book in that, I’m not sure what I can actually tell you about it without ruining everything. A plane has crashed in Nazi-occupied France. The passenger and the pilot are best friends. One girl might be able to save herself while the other never really stood a chance. Faced with an impossible situation, one of the girls begins to weave an intricate confession. Some of it might be embellished, some of it might even be false. But in the end all of it is ultimately the truth–both of her mission and a friendship that transcends all obstacles.

Broken into two parts, Code Name Verity is a masterfully written book as, time and time again, Wein takes everything readers know and turns it upside down as another dimension is added to the plot and its intricate narrative.

If a sign of excellent historical fiction is believing all of the details are presented as fact, then the sign of an excellent novel might well be wanting to re-read it immediately to see just how well all of the pieces fit together. Code Name Verity meets both of these criteria.

With wartime England and France as a backdrop, there is always a vague sense of foreboding and danger hanging over these characters. There is death and violence. There is action and danger. And yet there are also genuinely funny moments and instances of love and resistance.

Nothing in Code Name Verity is what it seems upon first reading–sometimes not even upon second reading. This book is undoubtedly a stunning work of historical fiction filled with atmospheric details of everything from airplanes to Scottish landscapes. But what really sets Code Name Verity apart is the dazzling writing and intricate plot that Wein presents. Then, beyond the plotting and the details, there are the two amazing young women at the center of a book that could have been about war or flying or even spies but ultimately became an exceptional book about true friends.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie, We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett,  A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Traitor by Amanda McCrina, Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel, Tamar by Mal Peet, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff, In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Elizabeth about this book!

Such a Rush: A Review

“In each South Carolina town where I’d lived–and I’d lived in a lot of them–the trailer park was next to the airport. After one more move when I was fourteen, I made a decision. If I was doomed to live in a trailer park my whole life, I could complain about the smell of jet fuel like my mom, I could drink myself to death over the noise like everybody else who lived here, or I could learn to fly.”

Such a Rush by Jennifer EcholsHer senior year of high school, Leah Jones things her life is finally coming together. After three years working at the local airport and flying with her instructor, Mr. Hall, Leah is finally ready for a real pilot job. She’s one step closer to her dream of becoming a professional pilot and getting out of the trailer park for good.

When Mr. Hall dies suddenly, Leah’s future isn’t as certain–especially her future flight career. Mr. Hall’s twin sons Alec and Grayson plan to keep family banner business running. Between Alec’s seeming lack of interest and Grayson’s erratic behavior, Leah has no desire to tie herself to a doomed business.

When Grayson threatens to expose her biggest secret–one that could jeopardize all of her future ambitions–Leah has no choice but to fly for Hall Aviation and go along with Grayson’s mysterious plot involving his brother Alec even if it could ruin everything for Leah in Such a Rush (2012) by Jennifer Echols.

Such a Rush is Echols’ first hardcover novel. She is the author of numerous romantic dramas and comedies for teens.

Such a Rush is filled with potential. The South Carolina setting is immediately evocative even when Leah is at pains to remind readers about how different both ends of her beach town really are.

Leah’s pull toward the air is palpable and adds a unique spin to the story and her character. As a heroine Leah is complicated and multi-dimensional and immediately sympathetic with an upbringing that will break your heart and, from the first line of the novel, an admirable resilience.

I’d even say Such a Rush has all of the pieces that mark a great novel.

Unfortunately, this one also has a lot of extra trappings that diminish the overall quality of the story.

While I loved the opening of the novel and admired Leah’s ambition and commitment to her goals, she is also a frustrating heroine. A lot of things happen to Leah. Throughout the course of the story Leah is exploited by  different characters forced into scenarios and situations she would otherwise avoid.

Aside from being swept up in events rather than actively seeking alternative solutions for herself, Leah’s love interest in the story is also a big problem. Leah and Grayson’s chemistry is immediately obvious. Echols writes moments between them that all but sizzle.* But their relationship is also never on an equal footing.

Sadly, Leah and Grayson’s unequal power dynamic makes their exchanges uncomfortable. Even at their most intimate–their most connected–Grayson holds his authority over Leah forcing her into directions she does not want to go.

Beyond that, it was painful to read how other characters perceive Leah. Despite supposedly being friends to her, other characters always assume the worst of Leah accusing her of everything from sleeping around to being a gold digger.** All while refusing to acknowledge everything Leah has fought against to even get to this point let alone the dedication it will take for her to actually become a professional pilot.

These problems are most apparent in the middle of the story. At the beginning Leah come across as less passive, with more agency, as readers learn what led her to the airport and Mr. Hall in the first place. The middle of the story focuses more on what everyone thinks of Leah, rather than how she is in reality, and forces Leah into a passive role in her dealings with the Hall twins. These two elements combine to make for a slow midpoint of the novel. Things come together in the end for Leah, as well they should, with a sugar sweet ending that almost makes up for the other characters’ abominable behavior during the rest of the novel. Almost.

Such a Rush is a great choice for anyone looking for an original romance even if a close reading might change your view of the characters. Issues aside, Such a Rush definitely proves that Echols is an author worth watching.

*This won’t be the popular opinion since the book is a romance novel but I think Such a Rush worked a little too hard to be steamy. The story was good enough without.

**SPOILER ALERT: Even at one of the seemingly romantic moments of the story these things come up. Right before Leah and Grayson share an intense moment on the beach, Grayson asks Leah–not for the first time–if she really didn’t sleep with Mr. Hall. In other words, the lead up to their big romantic scene is Grayson double checking that Leah didn’t sleep with his father and forcing Leah to justify the one non-dysfunctional relationship in her life. Which (because Leah keeps letting things happen to her rather than making active decisions) results in Leah telling Grayson she could have fallen for Mr. Hall had he been younger (ie: she could fall for Grayson) instead of just admitting she saw Mr. Hall as a father figure and telling Grayson to get his mind out of the gutter. Again, I want to point out this is what happens at a key romantic moment in the story. END SPOILER

Possible Pairings: Sleepless by Cyn Balog, When it Happens by Susane Colasanti, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Swoon by Nina Malkin, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn’t Have) by Sarah Mlynowski

**A copy of this book was received from the publisher for review**