Book Review: Front Lines by Michael Grant

Book Review: Front Lines by Michael GrantFront Lines by Michael Grant
Series: Soldier Girl #1
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on January 26, 2016
Genres: Alternate Universe, Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 576
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine, Edelweiss
Goodreads
5 Stars
1942. World War II. The most terrible war in human history. Millions are dead; millions more are still to die. The Nazis rampage across Europe and eye far-off America.

The green, untested American army is going up against the greatest fighting force ever assembled—the armed forces of Nazi Germany.

But something has changed. A court decision makes females subject to the draft and eligible for service. So in this World War II, women and girls fight, too.

As the fate of the world hangs in the balance, three girls sign up to fight. Rio Richlin, Frangie Marr, and Rainy Schulterman are average girls, girls with dreams and aspirations, at the start of their lives, at the start of their loves. Each has her own reasons for volunteering. Not one expects to see actual combat. Not one expects to be on the front lines.

Rio, Frangie, and Rainy will play their parts in the war to defeat evil and save the human race. They will fear and they will rage; they will suffer and they will inflict suffering; they will hate and they will love. They will fight the greatest war the world has ever known.

New York Times bestselling author Michael Grant has created a masterful alternate history of World War II in Front Lines, the first volume in a groundbreaking series.

Book Review:

FRONT LINES is a brilliantly imagined and wonderfully told alternate history of WWII. A Supreme Court decision has extended the draft to all US citizens regardless of gender. But will men welcome women into their ranks? What does the enemy think?

FRONT LINES is told through the eyes of three very different girls. Rio is the classic all-American small town girl, maybe fighting for her dead sister, maybe for the disatisfaction she feels with the expectation of being a wife and mother. Rainy is Jewish, determined to use her brains in intelligence to do her part to fight Hitler. Frangie is African American, has dreams of being a doctor, but has to deal with racism and sexism while trying to save lives.

The author doesn’t try to sanitize the anti-Semitic, racist, and/or sexist attitudes of the 1940s. All the girls deal with those attitudes, from their fellow soldiers and up the chain, as well as their families and the people around them. I appreciated the honesty, and that the author didn’t stick with just Rio’s perspective for the book.

FRONT LINES is one of those books I just loved. I devoured it. I could have read another 500 pages about Rio, Rainy, and Frangie, as well as America’s first steps into the war. The action takes place in Tunisia, the Battle of Kasserine Pass. Most YA WWII historical fiction is set in Europe, so it was good to see a different area.

The author has a way of drawing you into the book, building on the little things and the experiences the girls undergo, to really ramp things up. The beginning of FRONT LINES is a little slow, but well worth it. I also liked that Grant spent a good amount of time on everyone’s training. I always enjoy that, but I also thought it was a good way to show how some male opinions on women in the forces changed. As well as to show how important friendships were for the girls, as they needed others who understood exactly what they were going through.

Considering how much I loved FRONT LINES, it’s going to be a long, long wait for the next Soldier Girl book!

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Michael Grant:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Book Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta SepetysSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Published by Philomel Books on February 2, 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 400
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
5 Stars
The author of Between Shades of Gray returns to WWII in this epic novel that shines a light on one of the war's most devastating—yet unknown—tragedies.

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.

Book Review:

I’ve studied World War II for years. I’ve read countless books, both nonfiction and fiction, and watched a lot of documentaries. My undergrad degree is even in history. But somehow, before SALT TO THE SEA, I’d only heard about the Wilhelm Gustloff once.

One mention of such an immense tragedy.

I’m thankful to Ruta Sepetys for writing SALT TO THE SEA. I always enjoy historical fiction that introduces me to something I didn’t know before, which she certainly does. But more than that, the author has such a deft, confident hand that I could sense the amount of research she did and the respect she has for the survivors and victims of the Wilhelm Gustloff. Sepetys doesn’t overwhelm you with her knowledge, but inserts it subtly, weaving it into the backstories, thoughts, and actions of the characters.

SALT TO THE SEA is told through the eyes of four characters. Joana is Lithuanian, a nurse who always wants to help people in need, even if helping them might place herself in danger. Florian is Prussian, a boy with a pack of secrets. Emilia is Polish, a girl on the run from unspeakable horrors. Alfred is German, a member of the Kriegsmarine, and loyal to Hitler’s every thought. By using characters of different nationalities and loyalties, the author is able to show the many sides of Operation Hannibal, when Germany evacuated soldiers and citizens ahead of the Red Army.

The “chapters” in the book are short, often 2-3 pages before hopping to another character. For the first few chapters, this bugged me a bit, as I couldn’t get to know anyone with such short chapters. Then I got used to it and liked the short chapters, because the sparseness was more impactful than overloading me with details would have been.

SALT TO THE SEA is one of those rare books that I’ll be thinking about for a while.

Socialize with the author:

Ruta Sepetys:
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– leeanna

Book Review: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

Book Review: The Scorpion Rules by Erin BowThe Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow
Series: Prisoners of Peace #1
Published by Margaret K McElderry Books on September 22, 2015
Genres: Dystopian, Young Adult
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine, NetGalley
Goodreads
1 Stars
The world is at peace, said the Utterances. And really, if the odd princess has a hard day, is that too much to ask?

Greta is a duchess and crown princess—and a hostage to peace. This is how the game is played: if you want to rule, you must give one of your children as a hostage. Go to war and your hostage dies.

Greta will be free if she can survive until her eighteenth birthday. Until then she lives in the Precepture school with the daughters and sons of the world’s leaders. Like them, she is taught to obey the machines that control their lives. Like them, she is prepared to die with dignity, if she must. But everything changes when a new hostage arrives. Elián is a boy who refuses to play by the rules, a boy who defies everything Greta has ever been taught. And he opens Greta’s eyes to the brutality of the system they live under—and to her own power.

As Greta and Elián watch their nations tip closer to war, Greta becomes a target in a new kind of game. A game that will end up killing them both—unless she can find a way to break all the rules.

Book Review:

From the summary, THE SCORPION RULES sounds like the kind of book I’d love. The children of the world’s leaders are held hostage by the AI who took over the United Nations. If a country starts a war, that country’s hostage is killed. It’s a reasonably effective way of keeping the peace and keep everyone from destroying what’s left of the world.

Great premise. But as happens all too often in YA, the execution of THE SCORPION RULES is poor. I can’t remember the last time I read a book that was more boring. The only reason I finished this excruciatingly slow book? I was too lazy to get off my behind and pick a new book. That’s not a good reason, folks.

What happens in the book? A lot of taking care of goats and gardening chores. A lot of students double talking in code, because they don’t want to risk being overheard. A lot more taking care of goats and farm chores. A lot of history lessons. A lot of Greta… , I can’t really remember what Greta did, and that’s my point. THE SCORPION RULES was so slow, so boring, and so full of unimportant stuff that I glossed over 99% of it while reading, which is something I rarely do.

For example, the other hostages told Greta that she had the power at the school, that she was the one they followed. But WHY? I have no idea. If I was a kid at the Precepture school, there’s no way I’d have followed Greta or wanted anything to do with her. I was way more interested in Xie, Greta’s roommate and best friend. Xie actually had a personality.

I know I haven’t talked about what happens in THE SCORPION RULES, but honestly, I just didn’t care. The author didn’t make me care about the story or the world or the characters. When Greta finally figured out that the new hostage, Elián, was being tortured, I thought, “Good! At last something’s happening to someone.” But I wasn’t sympathetic towards him or Greta. The book was overwhelmingly dull.

Socialize with the author:

Erin Bow:
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– leeanna

Book Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

Book Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick NessThe Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
Published by HarperTeen on October 6, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine, Edelweiss
Goodreads
5 Stars
What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.

Award-winning writer Patrick Ness’s bold and irreverent novel powerfully reminds us that there are many different types of remarkable.

Book Review:

Most of the YA books I’ve read in the past few months have blended together, either just okay or blah, books with a good premise but bad execution, or books that have unrealistic romances (for me) or whatever. I had THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE sitting on my shelf to review, and boy, do I regret not reading it sooner instead of trudging through the sea of blah.

In THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE, there’s some kind of supernatural invasion or trouble going on, but instead of following the Chosen Ones, aka the indie kids, the book is about Mikey and his friends. They’re ordinary. They just want to make it through senior year before something blows up the school. Again.

Each chapter starts off with a short bit about what the indie kids are up to, and those short bits read a lot like the average YA supernatural/paranormal romance. And then it’s back to Mikey and his friends, who are trying to sort out their comparatively mundane (but no less important) problems. Mikey’s dealing with OCD, anxiety, and having a crush on Henna. Mikey’s sister, Mel, is a recovering anorexic, whose past is thrust back in the spotlight now that their mom is running for the US Congress. Mikey and Mel are each other’s rock, and they’re both there for younger sister Meredith, because mom’s busy with politics and dad’s an absent alcoholic.

I connected with every character in THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE. For the first time in a while, I eagerly flipped each page, because I had to know what happened next. Usually I’m not a big fan of contemporary — I need something extra to spice things up — but here, everything was just so real. The book felt authentic to me in a way many YA books don’t. I appreciated the author’s honesty and realism on various subjects: talking about sex, having sex, friends choosing to be family and being there for one another, that hardness you feel when you’re almost an adult but your parents still make decisions for you, anxiety about leaving behind everything you know, etc.

Plus, there are some great talks between Mikey and his psychiatrist, such as taking medication isn’t a failure, and that mental illness isn’t anyone’s fault, and it’s as real as any other medical problem.

Socialize with the author:

Patrick Ness:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Armada by Ernest Cline

Book Review: Armada by Ernest ClineArmada by Ernest Cline
Published by Crown Publishing on July 14, 2015
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 349
Format: Hardcover
Source: Blogging For Books
Goodreads
4 Stars
Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe.

And then he sees the flying saucer.

Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada—in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders.

No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills—as well as those of millions of gamers across the world—are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.

It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little…familiar?

At once gleefully embracing and brilliantly subverting science-fiction conventions as only Ernest Cline could, Armada is a rollicking, surprising thriller, a classic coming of age adventure, and an alien invasion tale like nothing you’ve ever read before—one whose every page is infused with the pop-culture savvy that has helped make Ready Player One a phenomenon.

Book Review:

ARMADA is one of those books that’s just fun to read. I think most gamers and sci-fi fans have dreamed of the day their esoteric knowledge will save the world. Zach Lightman actually gets that opportunity, when his top 10 standing in the Armada video game makes him eligible to join the Earth Defense Alliance and save the planet from aliens bent on Earth’s destruction. From start to finish, ARMADA is a fun, geeky ride through space.

The beginning of ARMADA is a little rough, especially if you’re not up on all the cultural references. The author overloads the first part of the book with those references, and while it’s fun, it’s also something that could lose readers that aren’t familiar with every single movie or game mentioned. The author doesn’t give a lot of context for his references, so when he uses them as a description for something else, it gets confusing. However, the plethora of cultural references does even out after a while, and if you’re a super nerd, you’ll probably enjoy all of them.

Zach is also a bit bland, but I didn’t mind that in ARMADA. Because he didn’t have a lot of personality, I was able to imagine myself in the action. I won’t spoil the story itself, but I did really like the idea of using a video game as secret government training, as well as the gaming technology the author adapted for war against the aliens.

Even though I have some complaints about ARMADA, mostly I enjoyed the book. It was the perfect read for me at the time — I recommend it for when you want something fun and geeky.

Socialize with the author:

Ernest Cline:
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– leeanna

Book Review: An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet

Book Review: An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah BobetAn Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet
Published by Clarion Books on October 6, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 400
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
2 Stars
The strange war down south—with its rumors of gods and monsters—is over. And while sixteen-year-old Hallie and her sister wait to see who will return from the distant battlefield, they struggle to maintain their family farm.

When Hallie hires a veteran to help them, the war comes home in ways no one could have imagined, and soon Hallie is taking dangerous risks—and keeping desperate secrets. But even as she slowly learns more about the war and the men who fought it, ugly truths about Hallie’s own family are emerging. And while monsters and armies are converging on the small farm, the greatest threat to her home may be Hallie herself.

Book Review:

You know how most books end when the good guys defeat the bad guys? But what happens when the war is over? What happens when family doesn’t come back? How do you go back to normal? What does normal even mean?

AN INHERITANCE OF ASHES tries to answer some of those questions. Hallie and her older sister Marthe stubbornly work their family farm, hoping Marthe’s husband will come back from the war. But instead of Thomas, a strange veteran shows up, looking to work for room and board for the winter. Heron’s help is sorely needed on the farm — 50 acres is too much for Hallie to handle herself — but the war might have followed him.

I quite liked the idea of AN INHERITANCE OF ASHES. Very rarely do YA books look at the aftermath of the big fight, so I was excited to see a book that promised to do just that.

But the book didn’t deliver for me. Because the war is over already, and because the men who fought don’t want to talk about it, I was super confused about its events and the Twisted Things. I liked the idea of the Twisted Things — they’re creepy and dangerous — but I felt like I was missing half the necessary information to understand them, the war, and the Wicked God. When the big revelation came, I didn’t understand it at all.

I felt like that for a lot of the book, actually — that I was missing vital information. Like I was plopped into the second book of a series. Hallie and her sister have a strained relationship, one that Hallie gets in the way of fixing with her own stubbornness. I could understand that stubbornness, and Hallie’s pride, but I didn’t know where it came from. Why didn’t Hallie ever open her mouth and ask the questions she had for Marthe, instead of brooding and being snippy when they did talk? The sibling troubles took up too much of AN INHERITANCE OF ASHES for me; I wish some of that page time had been spent explaining other things since it was just the same scene between them over and over.

Now, one thing I did like in the book was the burgeoning relationship between Hallie and Tyler. They’ve known each other all their lives, and I thought their stumbling steps towards a romantic relationship were quite realistic. It’s rare that I like romance, especially in YA, but I liked this one because it didn’t overshadow the rest of the book, was well done, and realistic. There’s no insta-love, love triangle, or any of that nonsense.

I wanted to like AN INHERITANCE OF ASHES way more than I did. When I finally finished the book, which seemed to take forever because of the slow pacing, I was disappointed. I felt like I had to read between the lines to make sense of everything, and I don’t enjoy that kind of reading experience.

Socialize with the author:

Leah Bobet:
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– leeanna

Book Review: What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

Book Review: What We Left Behind by Robin TalleyWhat We Left Behind by Robin Talley
Published by Harlequin Teen on October 27, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, LGBT, New Adult, Young Adult
Pages: 416
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
5 Stars
From the critically acclaimed author of Lies We Tell Ourselves comes an emotional, empowering story of what happens when love isn't enough to conquer all.

Toni and Gretchen are the couple everyone envied in high school. They've been together forever. They never fight. They're deeply, hopelessly in love. When they separate for their first year at college—Toni to Harvard and Gretchen to NYU—they're sure they'll be fine. Where other long-distance relationships have fallen apart, their relationship will surely thrive.

The reality of being apart, however, is a lot different than they expected. As Toni, who identifies as genderqueer, falls in with a group of transgender upperclassmen and immediately finds a sense of belonging that has always been missing, Gretchen struggles to remember who she is outside their relationship.

While Toni worries that Gretchen, who is not trans, just won't understand what is going on, Gretchen begins to wonder where she fits in Toni's life. As distance and Toni's shifting gender identity begins to wear on their relationship, the couple must decide—have they grown apart for good, or is love enough to keep them together?

Book Review:

Robin Talley’s first book, LIES WE TELL OURSELVES, was one of my favorites of 2014. When I saw she had a new book, one about a genderqueer protagonist, I couldn’t wait to read it. Books are slowly becoming more diverse, but it’s still rare to find one that explores gender identity. Just like the author’s debut, WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND is a book that touched me deeply, made me think a lot, and is one I want everyone to read.

WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND kind of straddles the line between Young Adult and New Adult. Toni and Gretchen are eighteen, just starting their first year of college. That’s an important time for a lot of people, because it’s the first time you’re on your own, with the chance to explore your interests and start to figure out who you really are. I think the author captured the chaos and freedom of that time quite well, when you’re trying new things, juggling old and new friendships, distant parental expectations, and maybe even an ongoing relationship.

I like just about everything in WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND, but a few things stand out. One is the relationship between Toni and Gretchen. Very rarely do YA books show the meat of a relationship — so much of the time, a book is focused on getting the characters together. In WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND, Toni and Gretchen have been a couple for two years. So they’re sure they can handle the distance between Boston and New York City. For a couple that loves each other as much as they do, a few hundred miles is no big deal. Nevermind the fact that Gretchen didn’t tell Toni she applied to NYU, instead of following Toni to Boston. That’s fine, because they don’t fight. But when you don’t fight, and you don’t really talk about the issues that bother you, how well does a relationship work? And when you’re used to being Toni-and-Gretchen, what happens when you’re just Toni or just Gretchen? Does love change, or does it always stay the same?

I really appreciated that the author delved into Toni and Gretchen’s relationship. Both of their perspectives are given, and while the adorable first meeting/hookup scene is included, there’s so much more than that in the book. There’s actual relationship growing pains, and while at first their relationship is perfect, it becomes less perfect when Toni feels unable to talk to Gretchen about all the new life things. How can Gretchen be the perfect girlfriend when it seems like Toni doesn’t want to see her?

The second standout of WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND is Toni’s gender explorations. At the start of the book, Toni identifies as genderqueer. At Harvard, Toni becomes friends with upperclassman who are all over the gender spectrum, which makes Toni think a lot more about where, exactly, Toni belongs. Is Toni gender nonconforming, gender fluid, non-binary, trans? Something else? Toni’s never felt like a girl, but being surrounded by others who know their gender identity, and also having the freedom for the first time ever to explore options, sends Toni on a quest to try everything from different pronouns to chest binding to more. Toni thinks about this a lot, and talks about with the new friends a lot, which resulted in me getting a good introduction and look into all the different labels out there, and why people would identify with/use different ones. Thanks to Toni, I also started thinking a lot more about pronouns, and how they reinforce gender constantly. Here’s a little example — it’s taking a lot of conscious thought to not use “she” or “he” to refer to Toni in this review. For another ah-ha moment, look at how Toni refers to others and how Gretchen refers to Toni in the first ~50 pages.

With Toni’s mad rush to figure everything out, Toni sometimes comes across, as well, somewhat of a jerk. Toni gets super wrapped up in figuring out the perfect pronouns and labels, and also fitting other people into neat little labeled boxes. Toni is often quite judgmental of other people. At first, that bugged me — I wanted to give Toni a good whack — but then I got it. If I wanted to be sure of myself and not constantly trying to figure out what label fit me, I’d probably act the same exact way.

WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND is a book that spoke to me and made me think. I enjoy books like that, especially books that push outside the boundaries of the conventional boy and girl fall in love the end stories.

Upcoming:

In the near future, I’ll have an interview with Robin on the blog, so be sure to check back!

Interview with Robin Talley.

Socialize with the author:

Robin Talley:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Book Review: Dumplin’ by Julie MurphyDumplin' by Julie Murphy
Published by Balzer & Bray on September 15, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine, Edelweiss
Goodreads
2 Stars
Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.

Book Review:

DUMPLIN’ is a book with a lot of hype behind it. I tend to be disappointed by heavily hyped books, and unfortunately, DUMPLIN’ was another one of those disappointments.

Willowdean Dickson, self-proclaimed fat girl, is comfortable in her own skin. She’s not going to diet or try to lose weight to make her mother, a former pageant queen, happy. She’s not one of those girls who looks in the mirror and thinks about how to be better. So you’d think that DUMPLIN’ is about body positivity and accepting who you are and being comfortable with that person.

But I thought Willow was quite judgmental. Example: “Mille is that girl, the one I am ashamed to admit that I’ve spent my entire life looking at and thinking, Things could be worse (p. 5).” Or: “Maybe Priscilla’s life is an even bigger mess than mine and I’ll walk away feeling like I’ve at least got it better than this poor girl (p. 91).”

Willow is supposed to be some sort of rebel by entering the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant. In the summary, the pageant’s described as her attempt to take back her confidence. But for an event that’s such an important part of the book, it really has very little page time, which disappointed me. Willow looks down on the pageant a lot, and after she enters, it’s more of an afterthought than anything else. I wish more of the pageant had been detailed, rather than just getting a few pages at the end.

Because instead of seeing a lot of the pageant or pageant prep, Willow spends way too much time angsting about her boy troubles for me to like DUMPLIN’ very much. Her “relationship” with Bo is a big thing, because when he touches her, Willow’s loses the comfort she’s always had with her body. But I saw absolutely zero chemistry in that relationship — and I’m using that term loosely, because Bo keeps Willow a secret. She spends the school year angsting about their summer spent making out behind a fast food place. I looked through DUMPLIN’ a second time, trying to figure out why Bo liked Willow, and I got nothin. Their relationship seemed like pure wish fulfillment to me: yes, the fat girl can have a cute jock! Add in another sort of relationship that I didn’t like either because Willow used the guy, and I was more than finished with Willow.

I was bored by a lot of DUMPLIN’. Willow just didn’t grab me. She’s like so many other YA characters with the exception of her body. I was much more interested in her deceased Aunt Lucy, who was also overweight. Or Millie, who seemed much more comfortable with her body than Willow. I wish DUMPLIN’ had been written from Millie’s perspective, because she really was comfortable with herself, and because the pageant was actually important to her as a dream, not Willow’s random reasons.

Socialize with the author:

Julie Murphy:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Soundless by Richelle Mead

Book Review: Soundless by Richelle MeadSoundless by Richelle Mead
Published by Razorbill on November 10, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 272
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
3 Stars
From Richelle Mead, the #1 internationally bestselling author of Vampire Academy and Bloodlines, comes a breathtaking new fantasy steeped in Chinese folklore.

For as long as Fei can remember, there has been no sound in her village, where rocky terrain and frequent avalanches prevent residents from self-sustaining. Fei and her people are at the mercy of a zipline that carries food up the treacherous cliffs from Beiguo, a mysterious faraway kingdom.

When villagers begin to lose their sight, deliveries from the zipline shrink and many go hungry. Fei’s home, the people she loves, and her entire existence is plunged into crisis, under threat of darkness and starvation.

But soon Fei is awoken in the night by a searing noise, and sound becomes her weapon.

Richelle Mead takes readers on a triumphant journey from the peak of Fei’s jagged mountain village to the valley of Beiugo, where a startling truth and an unlikely romance will change her life forever...

Book Review:

While I haven’t read any of Richelle Mead’s other books, I know a lot of readers love her Vampire Academy and Bloodlines series. I was excited to read SOUNDLESS because of the book’s premise: a fantasy with Chinese influences, featuring an entire village of deaf characters. Fei and her people have been trapped on top of a mountain for generations. Avalanches blocked them in and keep them from farmland. So to survive, they mine precious metals which are sent down the mountain by zipline. In return, the line keeper sends them food.

It’s a system that’s worked for generations, but now miners are beginning to lose their sight. Unable to send enough metal down the zipline, they are punished with restricted rations. Fei, who has a more privileged life than many as an artist’s apprentice, is terrified because her sister’s going blind. Fei joins Li Wei, her childhood friend, on an impossible quest to get down the mountain to bring awareness to her village’s plight. The quest is made possible because Fei has miraculously regained her hearing.

I really wanted to like SOUNDLESS. So many fantasy books are set in Medieval European-like countries that I’m always excited to see a book use other influences. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like the author really developed the Asian setting and culture of SOUNDLESS. There are a few hints like foods and dress styles, but if there wasn’t an Asian girl on the cover, you could’ve plopped the book into any other generic fantasy setting. There are mentions of pixius (a mythological Chinese creature) in the book, but they needed more page time and development for me to feel them, rather than swooping in at the end.

I also didn’t like that Fei needed hearing to basically save the day. Because she can hear rocks falling, she and Li Wei are able to get down the mountain safely. Because she can hear soldiers and horses, she and Li Wei are able to escape pursuit. At first Fei’s not super happy about being able to hear, because it’s confusing and annoying to her, but as it saves her behind more and more, she admits the usefulness of it. By having Fei regain her hearing, I feel like the author was erasing a big part of Fei. That said, I do think Mead did a good job of showing how someone who has been deaf would think about suddenly having hearing — there were some good passages showing Fei’s feelings and thoughts.

In the end, SOUNDLESS was just okay. It’s a standalone, which also disappoints me a bit. Everything wraps up a bit too neatly at the end. Even though I’ve mostly pointed out negatives in this review, I would have liked to see more of Fei and her village, of what happens after the big climax. SOUNDLESS was just a bit too straightforward — a standard fantasy without anything super memorable. I think there are some great ideas here, but the execution was too simplistic.

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Richelle Mead:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman

Book Review: Vengeance Road by Erin BowmanVengeance Road by Erin Bowman
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on September 1, 2015
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance, Western, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
4 Stars
Revenge is worth its weight in gold.

When her father is murdered for a journal revealing the location of a hidden gold mine, eighteen-year-old Kate Thompson disguises herself as a boy and takes to the gritty plains looking for answers—and justice. What she finds are untrustworthy strangers, endless dust and heat, and a surprising band of allies, among them a young Apache girl and a pair of stubborn brothers who refuse to quit riding in her shadow. But as Kate gets closer to the secrets about her family, a startling truth becomes clear: some men will stop at nothing to get their hands on gold, and Kate’s quest for revenge may prove fatal.

Book Review:

VENGEANCE ROAD is a book that grabbed me from the second sentence and never let go. I read this book straight through, and I feel like I followed Kate every step of the way on her quest for vengeance.

I’ve never really liked Westerns as a genre (books or movies), but I do like the time period. And even before I started the book, I thought Kate sounded like a great character. A girl who disguises herself as a boy to get justice for her murdered father? Yeah, that’s right up my alley. So I took a chance with VENGEANCE ROAD, and boy am I happy I did. If you’re a little hesitant on the Western part, don’t be. If you like books about vengeance, with murder and shoot outs and a strong, strong main character, don’t pass this book up.

Kate is the real gem in this book. I adored her from the start. When she finds her father hanging from a mesquite tree and their home burned, she doesn’t sit back and cry. Well, she does, but only for a minute, and then she’s off to get revenge, Colt and Winchester in hand. Kate’s Pa raised her to be strong, to fend for herself, and she uses that strength to keep herself together even when she finds out secrets about her family. Kate’s prickly, loyal, and determined. Even when she gets herself in over her head or rushes into danger, she owns up to it. I also liked that Kate grew throughout the book, and by the end, really thought about what vengeance meant and what it was worth.

I just loved Kate’s voice. I mean, I’d think just like her if I was after someone who’d killed my father:

“See you in hell, mister.”

And that’s where I’m going, sure as the sun will rise, ‘cus I feel nothing. No remorse. No guilt. Not even a sliver of doubt. He deserved it, and I’d do it again. I’d do it over and over, and I wonder if something’s wrong with me.” (p. 10)

Kate’s Pa was great, too! We only see him in a few flashbacks and Kate’s memories, but he sounded like a great dad. Even though he kept secrets from her, he taught her how to defend herself and how to be a good person. I could easily see why Kate would want to punish his murderers.

The only thing I had a little trouble with in VENGEANCE ROAD was the thread with Kate’s mother. I can’t say why without spoiling things, but it was a bit over the top for me. But otherwise, I really enjoyed VENGEANCE ROAD, and I hope the author writes another Western YA, because she knocked this one off the trail.

Socialize with the author:

Erin Bowman:
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– leeanna