Review: Under a Painted Sky

under a painted sky

Title: Under a Painted Sky
Author: Stacey Lee
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Pages: 367
Genres: Action/Adventure, Historical, Romance
Review copy: ARC from Publisher
Availability: March 17, 2015

Summary: Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush.

Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.

This debut is an exciting adventure and heart-wrenching survival tale. But above all else, it’s a story about perseverance and trust that will restore your faith in the power of friendship.

Review: Two girls running to the west in the mid 1800s seemed like an unusual story. Add in that they are pretending to be boys and I knew it was bound to be interesting. The story begins with a bang or rather a smash. The action ebbed at times, but things never got dull. Just when the pace slowed a little, some new calamity would pop up. Strangely, even in the midst of tragedy and difficulty, the book had a positive feel to it. In spite of the death, violence, fear, and tragic circumstances of the characters, there was hope and as the summary indicates, there was “the power of friendship.”

The friendship between Sammy and Andy begins as they rely on each other for survival, but deepens as they share about themselves. I appreciated that the romance aspect of the book didn’t completely overwhelm the friendship narrative. I enjoy romance, but am happy when a book can be more than that.

Under a Painted Sky often has a lighthearted feeling, yet still deals with serious issues like racism, family loyalties, and gender roles. Stacey Lee has delivered a story that entertains yet also provides food for thought.

One more thing — the cover had me immediately. I don’t even think I cared what the book was about at that point. The sky is gorgeous and the silhouettes caught my eye. Eventually, I noticed the dragons, but it took me a lot longer to realize that the other squiggles weren’t just designs. I only understood when I closed the book at the end. Theresa Evangelista did a fabulous job on that cover design.

Recommendation: Get it soon especially if you enjoy historical fiction with plenty of action and a nice dose of humor. While not everything in the book is completely believable, I was totally willing to go along for the ride. Under a Painted Sky is a highly entertaining novel.

— Cover image and summary via author’s website

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New Releases

Here are a few diverse new releases hitting the shelves this week.

bettingBetting Blind by Stephanie Guerra
Skyscape

The cards are stacking up against Gabriel James: first there’s Phil, the guy paying the bills for Gabe’s mom (but not leaving his wife). Then there’s Gabe’s new school, filled with kids competing for the Ivies, Silicon Valley, and Wall Street—while Gabe’s just trying to swing enough Cs to graduate.

Gabe’s luck seems ready to change when he meets Irina Petrova: a hot violinist who is home-schooled by her strict Russian parents. When Gabe gets her number, he impresses the top guys at his school. When he becomes the drug connection for parties, his reputation is solidified. How else is he going to afford hanging with his new crew and impressing Irina? Anyway, it’s not really dealing if you’re just hooking up friends…right?

Gabe’s never been loyal to a girl before, but he finds himself falling for Irina hard. As the stakes are raised, Gabe will have to decide how high he’s willing to bet on school, on friends, on Irina—but most of all, on himself.

Mature content, ages 14 and up. – Cover image and summary via Goodreads

sixThe Silence of Six by E.C. Myers
Adaptive Books

“What is the silence of six, and what are you going to do about it?”

These are the last words uttered by 17-year-old Max Stein’s best friend, Evan: Just moments after hacking into the live-streaming Presidential debate at their high school, he kills himself.

Haunted by the image of Evan’s death, Max’s entire world turns upside down as he suddenly finds himself the target of a corporate-government witch-hunt. Fearing for his life and fighting to prove his own innocence, Max goes on the run with no one to trust and too many unanswered questions.

Max must dust off his own hacking skills and maneuver the dangerous labyrinth of underground hacktivist networks, ever-shifting alliances, and virtual identities — all while hoping to find the truth behind the “Silence of Six” before it’s too late. – Cover image and summary via Goodreads
the walled cityThe Walled City by Ryan Graudin

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

There are three rules in the Walled City: Run fast. Trust no one. Always carry your knife. Right now, my life depends completely on the first. Run, run, run.

Jin, Mei Yee, and Dai all live in the Walled City, a lawless labyrinth run by crime lords and overrun by street gangs. Teens there run drugs or work in brothels—or, like Jin, hide under the radar. But when Dai offers Jin a chance to find her lost sister, Mei Yee, she begins a breathtaking race against the clock to escape the Walled City itself. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

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Review: Midnight Thief

midnightTitle: Midnight Thief
Author: Livia Blackburne
Genres: Fantasy, Action/Adventure
Pages: 376
Publisher: Hyperion
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: Growing up on Forge’s streets has taught Kyra how to stretch a coin. And when that’s not enough, her uncanny ability to scale walls and bypass guards helps her take what she needs.

But when the leader of the Assassins Guild offers Kyra a lucrative job, she hesitates. She knows how to get by on her own, and she’s not sure she wants to play by his rules. But he’s persistent—and darkly attractive—and Kyra can’t quite resist his pull.

Tristam of Brancel is a young Palace knight on a mission. After his best friend is brutally murdered by Demon Riders, a clan of vicious warriors who ride bloodthirsty wildcats, Tristam vows to take them down. But as his investigation deepens, he finds his efforts thwarted by a talented thief, one who sneaks past Palace defenses with uncanny ease.

When a fateful raid throws Kyra and Tristam together, the two enemies realize that their best chance at survival—and vengeance—might be to join forces. And as their loyalties are tested to the breaking point, they learn a startling secret about Kyra’s past that threatens to reshape both their lives.

In her arresting debut novel, Livia Blackburne creates a captivating world where intrigue prowls around every corner—and danger is a way of life.

Review: Midnight Thief is an entertaining action/adventure fantasy that delves into unjust power structures and moral dilemmas. Kyra is a compelling heroine, one who grew up in the streets and eventually managed to make her way off of them with her thieving skills. I’m always pleased when a heroine starts off a story competent because it means the reader spends less time watching her level up and more time watching her get to have adventures. While Kyra does have a few training scenes/montages under the Assassin’s Guild—notably in fighting—most of the other characters respect her and her abilities. The skills she had before getting caught up in the guild (both physical and mental) are also the ones that she relies on most during the book. I was a little annoyed that Kyra spent the latter part of the book forced into working for one power or another, but I will admit that the tactics employed were a great way to raise the stakes for her, even if they were predicable for me.

Tristam was not as interesting a narrator, but I appreciated that his presence was a good contrast to Kyra. Through him, we got to see the effects of other people’s actions: the Demon Riders, Kyra, and the Assassin’s Guild. He was as his best while he was trying to figure out how the Palace’s intelligence was being leaked and his interactions with Kyra when he still saw her as an enemy. He was clever, persistent, and a skilled manipulator, which are always fun traits in a character.

But James was the master manipulator of Midnight Thief. If you like your antagonists as well-intentioned extremists with a liberal helping of the ends-justify-the-means methodology and more than a fair share of terrifying, James will be perfect for you. James wasn’t the only interesting non-point-of-view character; Livia Blackburn populated this world with several standouts, such as Pashla, Malikel, and Flick.

Blackburn did a good job of differentiating between Kyra’s and Tristam’s points of view. Some authors might have succumbed to the temptation to give them equal screentime (in order to further the romance), but Midnight Thief is Kyra’s story at heart. Blackburn only jumps to Tristam when there are parts of the story we can only get from him or when he is the better narrator for particular events (the chase in the Palace, for instance). Some of my favorite parts of the book were when Kyra or Tristam were able to question what they were doing, the loyalties they had, the society they lived in, and the repercussions of their actions. I also appreciated that both characters had to deal with death and violence, either that they caused or that they witnessed.

Perhaps my greatest complaint about the book is that I felt it contained few big surprises. With a couple exceptions (the one about the Demon Riders, for instance), either my familiarity with certain tropes or the hints dropped by Blackburn meant I often spent several pages just waiting for the book to catch up to my predictions. While it’s fun to guess right every now and then, I wish that I had been blown away more often or hadn’t figured out what direction things were headed so early.

Recommendation: Get it soon. Midnight Thief is a fun, fast read that will appeal to people who like prefer that their fantasy be less like a travelogue and more like a thriller. While I wish the book had felt less episodic and held more surprises than it did, it is a solid debut.

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New Releases

hero

It’s finally here! The Shadow Hero’s release date is this week. I reviewed it back in March and have been waiting impatiently for the release ever since. This was one of the best books I have read so far this year. Even if you aren’t a graphic novel, super hero kind of reader, this one is worth a try.

Title: The Shadow Hero
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Illustrator: Sonny Liew
Publisher: First Second

Summary: In the comics boom of the 1940s, a legend was born: the Green Turtle. He solved crimes and fought injustice just like the other comics characters. But this mysterious masked crusader was hiding something more than your run-of-the-mill secret identity… The Green Turtle was the first Asian American super hero.

The comic had a short run before lapsing into obscurity, but the acclaimed author of American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang, has finally revived this character in Shadow Hero, a new graphic novel that creates an origin story for the Green Turtle.

With artwork by Sonny Liew, this gorgeous, funny comics adventure for teens is a new spin on the long, rich tradition of American comics lore. — Cover image via Goodreads, summary via publisher

wings

Another book being released is Dirty Wings by Sarah McCarry. Kelly Jensen wrote an excellent review here. It’s the second book in a series, but Kelly explained that it could easily be read on its own.

Title: Dirty Wings (All Our Pretty Songs #2)
Author: Sarah McCarry
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin

Summary: A gorgeous retelling of the Persephone myth, Sarah McCarry brings us the story of Cass and Maia–the mothers from All Our Pretty Songs–and how their fates became intertwined.

Maia is a teenage piano prodigy and dutiful daughter, imprisoned in the oppressive silence of her adoptive parents’ house like a princess in an ivory tower. Cass is a street rat, witch, and runaway, scraping by with her wits and her knack for a five-fingered discount. When a chance encounter brings the two girls together, an unlikely friendship blossoms that will soon change the course of both their lives. Cass springs Maia from the jail of the only world she’s ever known, and Maia’s only too happy to make a break for it. But Cass didn’t reckon on Jason, the hypnotic blue-eyed rocker who’d capture Maia’s heart as soon as Cass set her free–and Cass isn’t the only one who’s noticed Maia’s extraordinary gifts. Is Cass strong enough to battle the ancient evil she’s unwittingly awakened–or has she walked into a trap that will destroy everything she cares about? In this time, like in any time, love is a dangerous game. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

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Book Review: Otherbound

otherTitle: Otherbound
Author: Corinne Duyvis
Genres: Fantasy/SF
Pages: 387
Publisher: Amulet Books
Review Copy: ARC from publisher
Availability: Now! Just came out on Tuesday!

Summary: Amara is never alone. Not when she’s protecting the cursed princess she unwillingly serves. Not when they’re fleeing across dunes and islands and seas to stay alive. Not when she’s punished, ordered around, or neglected.

She can’t be alone, because a boy from another world experiences all that alongside her, looking through her eyes.

Nolan longs for a life uninterrupted. Every time he blinks, he’s yanked from his Arizona town into Amara’s mind, a world away, which makes even simple things like hobbies and homework impossible. He’s spent years as a powerless observer of Amara’s life. Amara has no idea . . . until he learns to control her, and they communicate for the first time. Amara is terrified. Then, she’s furious.

All Amara and Nolan want is to be free of each other. But Nolan’s breakthrough has dangerous consequences. Now, they’ll have to work together to survive–and discover the truth about their connection.

Review: At first glance, the premise of this novel seems like it could be confusing and have the potential to go dastardly wrong. I’m thrilled to let you know that in fact, the opposite happens! You can’t put this book down. My plan was to read the book slowly over a series of nights and instead I ended up staying up way too late to finish it. Corinne Duyvis knocks it out of the park with this amazing debut of a novel.

Both Nolan and Amara are instantly likable characters that the reader is able to connect with, despite their extreme differences. Because of his connection to Amara, Nolan’s life is in constant flux and poor guy cannot get a break. In fact, he has lost a leg because of his connection to Amara and his family believes that he has seizures, when in reality he is in Amara’s world. Amara is a servant to a princess on the run, and she is actually mute, and communicates using sign language. Despite their disabilities, both Nolan and Amara are like action heroes, really. Once Nolan figures out how to “chat” with Amara, they work together to solve a mystery, so to speak, putting both their lives at risk. I find that characters who make the choice to be heroes are braver than the ones who are “destined for greatness”. Both Nolan and Amara fit into the description of the former and do not let their disabilities to hamper their goals in any way. For me, while the novel is a fantasy, the way Nolan’s and Amara’s disabilities were presented, as more background and just how they get about in the world, is realistic. I loved that this novel was not about them overcoming their disabilities, but more about the mystery of how Nolan and Amara, people from two different worlds, connect and overcome an oppressive government.

Another aspect of the novel I loved, and why Corinne’s book is so enjoyable, is how she writes the narration. The story is told from both Nolan’s and Amara’s point of view, which could be confusing especially when Nolan blinks and/or is with Amara. The way Corinne chose to break down those moments is what makes the novel interesting. The novel is particularly from Nolan’s point of view, and when he is drawn from Amara as some moments, you scream in frustration with him. When Nolan is fully with Amara, then the novel is in her point of view. The transitions between the two points of view is seamless and pulls the reader into the story. I can honestly say it was one of the reasons why I stayed up too late reading. Both voices are strong and like I said earlier, I was able to really connect with Nolan and Amara.

Lastly, the world that Corinne creates, Amara’s world, is just a diverse and real as our world. It was a foreign place, a unique world all it’s own, but there was hints of our world dropped in here and there. A reason exists for those small hints and the explanation given is just…you have to read the book to find out!

I greatly enjoyed this book and was sad when I finished. I don’t think there is a sequel planned, but I would love to spend more time in Amara’s world and even spend some time with Nolan

Recommendation: Get it now!

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Book Review: Rebellion (Tankborn #3)

Rebellion FCTitle: Rebellion (Tankborn #3)
Author: Karen Sandler
Genres: Fantasy/SF
Pages: 396
Publisher: Tu Books
Review Copy: ARC from publisher
Availability: June

Summary: In this final installment of the Tankborn series, Kayla has been kidnapped by the group that has been bombing GEN warehouses, and she must pretend to sympathize with them in order to escape.

In the wake of a devastating bomb blast, severely injured Kayla has been brought to the headquarters of the organization that planted the bomb-and many others like it in GEN food warehouses and homes. Her biological mother tells her that Devak is dead and that Kayla must join her in the terrorist group, which is ramping up for something big. Now Kayla must pretend that she embraces this new role in an underground compound full of paranoia as she plots a way to escape and save her friends. Meanwhile, Devak has emerged from his healing in a gen-tank, only to be told that Kayla is dead and his family has fallen from grace. Can he overcome his grief at the loss of his power to see the clues that point to Kayla being alive? As Kayla and Devak overcome the multiple obstacles put between them while trying to free GENs without further bloodshed, the Tankborn trilogy rushes to a thrilling conclusion!

Review:  Being the third and concluding book of a series about teenagers working to over throw a system of oppression, I expected Rebellion to be about the big battles of a revolution, but instead it is more of a story about two people fighting for their love against the individuals who wish to keep them apart. I was quite surprised that the ending of the Tankborn series was actually not about a global revolution but a personal fight for freedom; the ability to make one’s own choices.  At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, but as I continued to read and get more involved with Kayla’s and Devak’s struggle, I enjoyed the change from a “rebel against society” to a personal rebellion. Both Kayla and Devak have been manipulated by two different factions, the FHE and the Kinship respectively, who want to use the teens for their own means. Instead, because both Kayla and Devak are smart, neither really trust what they’ve been told and set out to discover the truth. This sets in motion the personal rebellion by each to find the other. This key change, this personal struggle for freedom, made me really enjoy Sandler’s novel. In a landscape of books about teens challenging and winning against an corrupt government, to have two young people who just want to be together and work hard to achieve that goal was refreshing.

Sandler doesn’t make the journey easy for both Kayla and Devak and both experience setbacks in their search. Maybe I’m sick and like to see characters suffer, but if the journey to find each other had been to easy (as the love story is in some books) then the pay off would not have been worth it. Through the first two books Kayla and Devak learned that rebellion against society is hard and comes with a price, and in Rebellion, both learn that the same costs come with fighting for one’s own freedom. Both experience some losses, but their determination to be free from the organizations who wish to use them and be able to love each other, is what keeps them fighting. I loved that aspect of both of their characterizations and it felt realistic. It took them two books to realize how much they love each other and in this book, they were willing to do something about it. I really loved this aspect of the story and rooted for Kayla’s and Devak’s happy ending.

Like the other two books, Sandler’s world is just as engrossing as ever. In Rebellion, the story takes on a broader scope and we travel with Devak, and Kayla to a certain extent, to the outer areas of Svarga and even spend some time in the Badlands. The way Sandler writes her world, it feels so real, that when I was done reading I wasn’t ready to leave Kayla and Devak. In fact, I’m hoping that Sandler is willing to write a fourth book, or even another book set in this unique world. The way she describes Svarga, including all the little details, makes me imagine that Kayla’s & Devak’s world actually exists somewhere in this wide universe of ours.

Recommendation: If you haven’t read the series, go buy it and if you’re anxiously awaiting Rebellion – get it as soon as it comes out.

P.S. I just adore the cover. I could stare at it all day. It’s just that beautiful.

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