Vengeance Road: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“If you think you can’t do something, you won’t. If you believe you can, it’s only a matter of time before you will.”

Vengeance Road by Erin BowmanKate Thompson’s father is killed by the treacherous Rose Riders for a journal that reveals the location of a hidden gold mine. Desperate for justice and her own share of revenge, Kate sets out after her father’s murderers.

But the Arizona territory is not hospitable to strangers in 1877, or eighteen-year-old girls, so Kate disguises herself as a boy before following the Rose Riders’ trail. On the road to vengeance she finds deception, betrayal and two brothers she who refuse to let her finish her ride alone.

As Kate gets closer to the Rose Riders and the truth about her father’s murder, she will have to decide if getting her revenge is worth losing herself in Vengeance Road (2015) by Erin Bowman.

Vengeance Road is a fast-paced western adventure that follows Kate as she struggles to get revenge. The novel is written in Kate’s dialect as she narrates the story. Her voice has a twang and verve that immediately brings the old west landscape to life.

Bowman provides evocative descriptions of mining towns, saloons and riding on through the plains to help bring Kate’s journey to vivid life. The addition of real historical figures and an author’s note detailing the inspiration for certain aspects of the story help to flesh out the story even further.

Kate is a tough-talking, no-nonsense heroine. Her singular focus on revenge ensures that Vengeance Road is an action-heavy story with a clear destination. While there is a romance subplot, it is very much secondary to Kate’s quest for justice.

Throughout the novel, Kate spends a lot of time on her. Although she is not the most introspective character, this solitude does give Kate the opportunity to contemplate what getting revenge will entail and what it might cost her in the end.

Unexpected twists and surprising reveals in the final act of this novel make Vengeance Road a page-turning adventure. Kate’s quiet and unique voice make Vengeance Road a novel to ponder and savor.

Possible Pairings: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson, Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, No Surrender Solider by Christine Kohler, Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee, Twist of Gold by Michael Morpurgo, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Montmorency by Eleanor Updale

UPDATE 11/6/2015: While I enjoyed this book, I do want to point everyone to Debbie Reese’s review of Vengeance Road on her site American Indians in Children’s Literature. Debbie looks at the book from a Native perspective and I think it’s important to be aware of the ways in which the book is problematic (or even inaccurate in terms of American Indian experiences) as well.

*A copy this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2015*

The Perilous Gard: A (classic) Review

The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie PopeEngland, 1558. Kate Sutton is serving as lady-in-waiting to Princess Elizabeth when a disastrous letter from Kate’s sister changes everything. Exiled by Queen Mary Tudor, Kate is sent to a distant castle called the Perilous Gard.

The Perilous Gard and the surrounding Elvenwood are steeped in mystery. Villagers fear the inhabitants of the castle and the castle staff refuse to explain why to Kate. The master of the castle, Sir Geoffrey Heron, offers even less in the way of answers as he is keen to be as far from the Gard as often as possible.

Sir Geoffrey’s brooding brother, Christopher, soon becomes Kate’s unlikely source for information. As Kate learns more about the castle and surrounding grounds, she begins to realize the Perilous Gard is hiding a secret–one that could change Christopher’s life. But secrets are dangerous things and trying to get to the truth surrounding her new home could lead to things far worse for Kate than mere exile in The Perilous Gard (1974) by Elizabeth Marie Pope.

The Perilous Gard was a Newbery Honor title in 1975. It is a retelling of Tam Lin.

The Perilous Gard is a perfect blend of historical fiction and fantasy. Kate’s story is very grounded in the reality of life in 1558 England, a period that Pope brings to life with carefully detailed prose and obviously thorough research. The story of Tam Lin is turned on its head here as fairies and Druid customs converge in a story of secrets, peril and human sacrifice.

Kate is an excellent heroine. She is pragmatic, stubborn and loyal to a fault. She refuses to let circumstances (or even dangerous fairies) stop her from doing what is necessary. She is also one of the most level-headed characters you are likely to meet.

Tam Lin, of course, centers heavily on a love story as a maiden tries to save her lover from the fairies who have laid claim to him. While there is still romance here, it is refreshingly honest and realistic. Kate and Christopher are rash and often quite thoughtless. At first they do not understand let alone like each other. Yes during unexpected time together, it becomes obvious that there might be (maybe should be) more to their relationship as this unlikely pair becomes fast friends.

It’s easy to think that a book from 1974–an arguable classic–would feel stale or stilted. Instead The Perilous Gard writing draws readers in and creates an all-consuming story that is an absolute delight. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy historical fiction, fantasy and fairy tale retellings, this book also has strong crossover potential for readers of all ages.

Possible Pairings: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Tam Lin by Pamela Dean, Entwined by Heather Dixon, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Thomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, The Glass Casket by Templeman McCormick,The Mirk and Midnight Hour by Jane Nickerson, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Even in Paradise: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“They were all royalty. They were all gods. They were all broken.”

Even in Paradise by Chelsey PhilpotCharlotte Ryder is pretty certain about the course of her life. She has her group of friends at St. Anne’s. She has her roommate at the boarding school. Charlotte has her memory box, her studio time, and her plans to become an artist.

Charlotte never expects that she will meet the infamous Julia Buchanan when she abruptly transfers to the school at the start of their junior year. Charlotte never expects that she will become Julia’s friend.

It’s hard to ignore Julia Buchanan’s pull. Charlotte is easily absorbed into Julia’s magical world of luxury and decadence; she even finds herself drawn into the great Buchanan family with all of their spectacle and charisma.

As she becomes closer to Julia and the rest of the Buchanans, Charlotte realizes that Julia’s effervescent personality and easy smiles are part of a facade. Julia’s life–like those of her family–has been shaped by a tragedy that still haunts her. In trying to uncover Julia’s secrets, Charlotte hopes to help her friend. Instead, the truth might tear them apart in Even in Paradise (2014) by Chelsey Philpot.

Even in Paradise is Philpot’s first novel. It is a loose retelling of Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh with strong undertones reminiscent of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald as well. Although Philpot credits both of these classics among her inspirations, Even in Paradise is also very much its own story.

Charlotte is a heroine who starts the novel on the periphery of her own life. So much of who Charlotte is, not to mention what she does, is defined by her friendship with Julia or who she is in Julia’s presence. It’s impossible to ignore the pull of Julia’s dizzying world. But it is only in gaining distance from that world that Charlotte really begins to come into her own with character development that is both fascinating and empowering.

Although this story has some adorably romantic moments (and even the hint at something more) Even in Paradise remains very firmly a story about friendship with a plot ranging from the initial moments that can tie people together right through to the moments with potential to tear them apart.

Despite any perceived pain or loss, Charlotte has no regrets when it comes to her friendship with Julia  and the other events during Even in Paradise. It’s refreshing, and even a bit shocking, to see that kind of conviction in a narrator. It is powerful to see Charlotte’s introspection and acknowledgement at the end of the novel of the many people and moments that have shaped her present self.

Even in Paradise is a subtle, contemplative novel about growing up and growing apart. A story about finding yourself in the midst of feeling lost. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Great by Sara Benincasa, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han, And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard, Jake, Reinvented by Gordon Korman, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, Damaged by Amy Reed, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. Smith, Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher at BEA 2014 for review consideration*

You can also check out my interview with Chelsey!

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls: A Review

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn WeingartenJune and Delia used to be friends. Best friends. Even when it felt like their home lives were falling apart, June knew she could count on Delia. She knew their secrets tied them together.

That was a while ago. Over a year. Before June started dating Ryan. Before Delia met Ryan and things got . . . weird.

June hasn’t spoken to Delia since.

Now Delia is dead. Burned to death in her step-father’s shed, they say. Suicide, they say.

June doesn’t believe it.

Certain that Delia was murdered, June sets out to uncover the truth. Instead of easy answers, she finds a complicated  tangle of secrets and lies that will change everything she thought she knew about her best friend in Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls (2015) by Lynn Weingarten.

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls is Weingarten’s fourth novel. It is a stand-alone title.

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls is a complicated novel. Weingarten employs varied narrative techniques and format choices throughout to create prose with as many twists as the plot.

Like June herself, readers never know exactly what to expect in this book. The plot is uneasy and often difficult as June unearths raw moments from her past with Delia. This story is partly the postmortem of a friendship with flashbacks and June’s memories detailing how the girls’ friendship began and, later, how it unraveled.

The rest of the novel focuses more closely on June’s investigation of Delia’s death and her increasing questions about what really happened. June is never certain who to trust, lending a sense of uncertainty and unease to a novel where allegiances–and even facts–are constantly shifting.

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls is a solid thriller with moments of genuine suspense, numerous shocks, and a powerful ending that demands to be discussed at length. A must-read for fans of thrillers in general and readers who like a novel that keeps them guessing.

Possible Pairings: Shift by Jennifer Bradbury, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes, Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

*A copy this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2015*

Dove Arising: A Review

Dove Arising by Karen BaoPhaet Theta has lived in Base IV of a colony on the moon for all of her fifteen years. Despite her name sounding like “fate,” she doesn’t put much stock in destiny. Phaet knows there is no room for a larger, grander life within the oppressive rules and regulations issued by the Standing Council keep residents safe.

There is no room for defiance or even annoyance when the colony’s militia could be listening anywhere.

That also means Phaet’s mother can be detained at a moment’s notice leaving Phaet in charge of her two younger siblings and unsure how she can keep any of them out of the colony’s horrifying Shelter division.

With no other options, Phaet quickly abandons her dreams of scientific study to join the militia in hopes of earning enough money to cover her mother’s medical bills and her family’s expenses. All Phaet needs to do is survive training and earn enough money for her family. Simple. At least until everything Phaet thought she knew turns out to be very wrong in Dove Arising (2015) by Karen Bao.

Dove Arising is Bao’s first novel and the start of a projected trilogy.

Dove Arising starts with a fascinating setting. The moon colony is filled with new technology as well as a detailed history, details of which come in the form of exposition delivered as clunky asides throughout the narrative. While the information is often crucial to the story it is also often a distraction from the plot.

While not truly derivative, it’s impossible to read Dove Arising without drawing parallels to other big name dystopian novels. Readers who are fond of plots involving training and initiation, conspiracies and possibly corrupt regimes, will definitely want to pick up Dove Arising. Readers looking for a purely sci-fi novel might be better served elsewhere.

Phaet is withdrawn and quiet. Introspective and rational to a fault, she is an interesting narrator in that she is often a bystander in her own life. Bao expertly demonstrates Phaet’s growth as she learns to fight her own battles during training–her first time without best friend Umbriel to do the talking for her.

Dove Arising is an interesting sci-fi novel with a diverse and varied cast of characters. Although they never quite come together in Dove Arising, all of the pieces are here for a strong and wildly popular series. These strengths combined with a game-changing ending that will leave readers eager for the next installment make Dove Arising a promising start to a new series.

Possible Pairings: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, Legend by Marie Lu, Breaking Sky by Cori McCarthy, Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi, Divergent by Veronica Roth

Split Second: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*Split Second is the second book in West’s Pivot Point duology which begins with Pivot Point. As such this review contains major spoilers for book one!*

Split Second by Kasie WestEverything changes the moment Addie chose to stay with her mother after her parents’ divorce. Staying on the Compound is familiar. The Compound gives her the support she needs to advance and train her psychic ability to Search different outcomes for every decision she makes. Not to mention it has advanced technology the likes of which the Norm world can’t imagine.

Addie knows she stayed for a reason. Why else would a path where her boyfriend manipulated both Addie and her best friend Laila be the best option? The problem is she still isn’t sure why because she also asked Laila to erase Addie’s memories of the Search.

Laila, meanwhile, knows she can restore Addie’s memories. She just needs to learn how first. She knows Connor–a boy at school known for selling contraband tech–will be able to help. Unfortunately, Laila did not realize that he might be the only guy on the Compound immune to her charms and manipulation tactics.

When Addie goes to Texas to visit her Dad, she expects to have a quiet six weeks of relaxing and solitude. That changes when she meets Trevor who seems achingly familiar even though Addie barely knows him.

Together Addie and Laila have all of the pieces to restore Addie’s memories and unearth a much bigger secret. But only if they figure out how to put all of the information together before it’s too late in Split Second (2014) by Kasie West.

Split Second is the sequel/companion novel to West’s debut novel Pivot Point.

Split Second picks up one week after the events from Pivot Point play out. Given the nature of the stories, Split Second does function in many ways as a standalone however a lot of the emotional resonance will be lost without reading Pivot Point.

While Addie is dealing with the fallout from Duke’s lies and tricks, Laila is grappling with guilt over her (unintentional) role. Laila also has a letter Addie wrote asking her to restore Addie’s lost memories and no idea where to start.

The story unfolds in chapters alternating between Addie and Laila’s first person narration (each labeled with texts written to each other). West handles the overlap and convergence of the two plots expertly to make for one cohesive novel.

After meeting Laila in Pivot Point, it is great to see more of her story in Split Second. Laila is often calculating and even ruthless when it comes to protecting people she cares about. But she is also loyal to a fault with hidden depths. Laila always projects an effortless confidence that is delightful to behold.

While Addie rediscovers Trevor in Texas, Laila is left on the Compound where she finds Connor. Connor’s introspection and calm is a perfect counterpoint to Laila’s bravado and extrovert personality. Both characters have a lot of secrets and make conscious choices in what they present to the world and what they choose to protect. Their changing dynamic adds a great element of both humor and sweetness to Split Second.

Split Second is another fantastic sci-fi adventure complete with not one but two romances. West does a great job bring readers back to Addie and Trevor’s story while also introducing Laila and Connor. Although there are still a lot of questions (and many readers who would love to see more about these characters), Split Second is the perfect conclusion to a delightfully fun series.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, Unearthly by Cynthia Hand, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, Parallel by Lauren Miller, Soulprint by Megan Miranda, Fair Coin by E. C. Myers, Divergent by Veronica Roth, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill

Charlie, Presumed Dead: A Review

charliepresumedeadEveryone is going to miss Charlie. He’s young, handsome, rich and charming. A world-traveler who always knows the right thing to say and all the right people. It’s a tragedy when Charlie is presumed dead when his bloody jacket is found at the site of a shocking accident with no trace of a body left behind.

Charlie’s memorial service is filled with mourners despite the short notice–including Lena and Aubrey. Although the two girls have never met, they have one important thing in common: both of them are dating Charlie.

While Aubrey came to the memorial seeking closure and hoping to move on from her tumultuous year as Charlie’s girlfriend, Lena is certain that there is more to Charlie’s disappearance including clues that will lead them both on an international hunt for the truth.

Traveling from Paris to London, Mumbai, Kerala and Bangkok will teach Aubrey and Lena some hard truths about themselves and whether they can trust each other. Their trip will also reveal shocking truths about Charlie that are beyond anything they could have imagined in Charlie, Presumed Dead (2015) by Anne Heltzel.

Charlie, Presumed Dead is Heltzel’s first novel.

Lena and Aubrey are complete opposites with few reasons to trust each other and fewer reasons to like each other. Heltzel’s dual narration allows readers to understand more of each girl’s motivations as well as their secrets. Charlie, Presumed Dead is a tense thriller that will have readers questioning everything.

Charlie, Presumed Dead has a narrow focus on Lena and Aubrey as they unravel Charlie’s lies. What begins as a simple plot expands into a simultaneously creepy and surreal journey as their search is contrasted against vivid international locations inspired by the author’s own travels.

Filled with twists, jaw-dropping shocks and several genuinely scary moments, Charlie, Presumed Dead is a page-turning mystery guaranteed to keep readers guessing until the very last page.

Possible Pairings: Shift by Jennifer Bradbury, The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, After the Kiss by Terra McVoy, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty, I am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes, Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten