Retribution Rails

Secrets are like bullets. Ditto the dark, personal stuff. Folks say they’ll take’em off yer hands, share the burden, but really they just load ’em into their own weapons so they can use ’em against you later.

Title: Retribution Rails

Author: Erin Bowman

Series: Companion novel to Vengeance Road

Publication:  November 7th 2017 by HMH Books for Young Readers

Pages: 384

Source: Netgalley

Summary from Goodreads:

When Reece Murphy is forcibly dragged into the Rose Riders gang because of a mysterious gold coin in his possession, he vows to find the man who gave him the piece and turn him over to the gang in exchange for freedom. Never does he expect a lead to come from an aspiring female journalist. But when Reece’s path crosses with Charlotte Vaughn after a botched train robbery and she mentions a promising rumor about a gunslinger from Prescott, it becomes apparent that she will be his ticket to freedom—or a noose. As the two manipulate each other for their own ends, past secrets are unearthed, reviving a decade-old quest for revenge that may be impossible to settle.

In this thrilling companion to Vengeance Road, dangerous alliances are formed, old friends meet new enemies, and the West is wilder than ever.

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The Glass Sentence

That is almost always the way with stories. True to their very core, even when the events and the people in them are different.

Title: The Glass Sentence

Author: S.E Grove

Series: The Mapmakers Trilogy # 1

Publication: June 12th 2014 by Viking Books for Young Readers

Pages: 493

Source: Publisher in exchange for a honest review

Summary from Goodreads:

She has only seen the world through maps. She had no idea they were so dangerous.
Boston, 1891. Sophia Tims comes from a family of explorers and cartologers who, for generations, have been traveling and mapping the New World—a world changed by the Great Disruption of 1799, when all the continents were flung into different time periods.  Eight years ago, her parents left her with her uncle Shadrack, the foremost cartologer in Boston, and went on an urgent mission. They never returned. Life with her brilliant, absent-minded, adored uncle has taught Sophia to take care of herself.

Then Shadrack is kidnapped. And Sophia, who has rarely been outside of Boston, is the only one who can search for him. Together with Theo, a refugee from the West, she travels over rough terrain and uncharted ocean, encounters pirates and traders, and relies on a combination of Shadrack’s maps, common sense, and her own slantwise powers of observation. But even as Sophia and Theo try to save Shadrack’s life, they are in danger of losing their own.

A Listical of Thoughts:

  • I don’t think the book was able to decide if it was supposed to be Middle Grade or Young Adult – made for a very confusing set of standards.
  • THE BOOK IS A GIANT TEASE! You can’t say things and then not go into detail about them. Where is the why? The how? The who? We need to know these things or else you lose all credibility of your story. Follow the rules of the magic you lay out.
  • The characters are impossible to distinguish from their stereotype behaviors – but at the same time, they are super contradictory. It’s very… strange. Nothing about them was consistent. You can be a stereotype (nooo.. don’t do it) as long as you, once again, follow your own rules and groundwork. Making characters say one thing and do another or not know something and still magically know the answer doesn’t work!
  • I will say, the plot and the world itself is unbelievably original and unique. I am one-hundred percent certain that this is the only reason I finished the book. Maps… I will never be able to look at maps the same way again. The world building is brilliant, so props on that.
  • BUT! Yes, that is a big but there. While the idea of the world is brilliant, the actual execution suffers from a lack of knowledge about itself. If that makes sense. As I have said over and over again, if you are going to create a completely new world, you must set your own rules and follow them. There is none of that here! It makes it unbelievable if nothing is explained and it all works out anyway. We, as readers, need some sort of concrete evidence proving to us that this could actually happen in the circumstances you created.
  • Theo is the highlight of this book (besides the idea itself). I love Theo. He is both the hero of the story and the literal hero of the story – he saved the book for me. YAY THEO.
  • It takes a long while for things to get rolling. If you’re okay with drawing things out unnecessarily, then you can overlook it. However, I quite like getting to the conflict – or at least the hint of the conflict, before the first hundred pages are done, yeah?
  • It would benefit from a Pride & Prejudice & and Zombies-eque ending. Actually, it would just benefit from zombies to make it more interesting.

Vengeance Road

“That sounds real nice, boy,” he says. “Now for the love of God, lower that damn pistol.”
“All right,” I says.
And I do.
Right after I shoot him through the skull.”

Title: Vengeance Road
Author: Erin Bowman
Series: Standalone
Publication: September 1st 2015 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher at ALA

Summary from Goodreads:

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

In the spirit of True Grit, the cutthroat days of the Wild West come to life for a new generation

My Thoughts:

This book is one I’ve been waiting for since I first heard about it. When I went to ALA Annual this year I was on a mission to get this book, and let me tell you, boy am I glad I got my hands on a copy.

Vengeance Road is the first Western book I have ever read. Sure, I have seen True Grit and a bunch of other movies and television shows, but I have never sat down and actually read a Western till now. And now that I have, I can’t even think of how to explain how glad I am that I did. Not only is this the first Western book I have read, I think it is one of the first Young Adult books of its kind – though, Walk On Earth a Stranger is coming out during the same month. Vengeance Road was raw, that is the best way to describe it. It was real, there was no sugar-coating or cutting corners – it was raw, real, and absolutely terrifying in ways I never would have thought of before reading this book.

From the very start Vengeance Road encapsulated what a wonderful writer Erin Bowman is. This book is filled to the brim with hard-hitting issues. There is murder, slavery, the fanatic fever of the gold rush, all sorts of things I can’t even begin to label. Vengeance Road tore my heart into little itty-bitty pieces while simultaneously making me laugh, smile, rip my hair out, and scream.

We start off with our protagonist, Kate, returning home to find a group men hanging her father from a tree while burning down the home she grew up in. Just take a moment and imagine that. Imagine walking over the hill, that last precipice before you can see your house on the horizon, and seeing your home burning to ashes while your father is being murdered right before your eyes and there isn’t anything you can do about it. Yea, this book will definitely tear your heart and sanity to shreds. Anyway, back to the point here. After seeing her father die and her home destroyed, Kate is filled with the need for revenge. From this point on, she pretends to be a boy named Nate and goes off on this crazy quest for revenge while trying to track the group that murdered her father, The Rose Riders. Along the way, she run into the two sons of an old family friend, and if it wasn’t already interesting enough for you – you can sure as hell bet it picks up as soon as they come into the mix.

After hearing that Erin Bowman was writing a Western, I couldn’t help but to be excited. I absolutely loved the Taken Trilogy and Vengeance Road is no exception to how much I love her work. I do have to tell you the truth here, though, I was shocked by the graphic deaths. I have never seen a Young Adult book describe a dead body with such disturbing clarity in my life. Back to my original train of thought, part of me felt like this was going to be a westernized version of She’s the Man. The idea that a girl was going to be pretending to be a boy was a big part of that, I couldn’t help but to expect something light and fluffy – so imagine my surprise when I opened the pages and, bam, people are dead, the protagonist is a badass, and there is blood everywhere.
Bowman filled this book to the brim with bloody revenge, shoot outs in pubs, saloon girls, and cowboys who shoot first and ask questions later. She even writes in a different dialect, even all of Kate’s inner monologue. It can get sort of confusing at times, but it worked perfectly with the setting so I was able to deal with it. It would be hard to argue against how realistic the setting of Vengeance Road is, everything was so graphic and in your face that it felt as if the characters were seconds from leaping off the page and pointing a gun at your head if you sneezed too loudly while reading. Get the picture?
As for the characters themselves, they were just as real and vibrant as the setting.Kate might have been constrained by what a woman should have acted like during that time, but she was still insanely independent. She was tough, she was a firecracker, she was a lady, and she was extremely likable. At the same time, though, she was so prickly and ornery that I thought she was a damn cactus along the side of the road. She was a living and breathing girl who felt forced into this path of revenge in order to make things right for her father and what was done to him. She takes no one’s shit, and I find that extremely admirable – especially for a female in the old west. I guess, if I had to simplify this, Kate is what I picture the child of Rose Hathaway and Dimitri Belikov to be like if they had a child back eighteen hundreds. Next we have Jessie, our love interest (sort of). Jessie is the eldest of the two brothers that join in on Kate’s wild adventure. He is loyal, considerate, kind-hearted (for the most part), and he doesn’t really have a temper which was really refreshing when paired with Kate’s uncontrollable one. Will, Jessie’s younger brother, was completely adorable. He was hilarious, I really loved his dry sense of humor when they were on the road. I have to say this, I have no idea how old the characters are. I think Jessie might be in his twenties and that Will might be closer to eighteen or nineteen, I have no idea. For that reason, among many others, I thought Kate was going to end up with Will – not Jessie. I just loved all of them – is that so bad?

Vengeance Road is a western novel woven through with small threads of mystery, romance, and pure and utter heartbreak – it is a must read. The plot was exciting, suspenseful, and no dull moments. There are numerous twists and turns that I never saw coming. Vengeance Road is a truly engrossing read that shows some vivid history of America and how the greed and lust for gold created beasts of men. It was one of my most anticipated reads of this year and it surpassed all expectations. If there’s any book that you read this September, let it be this one, it will not disappoint.

“When I were first learning to shoot a rifle, Pa told me that nearly every battle people face is in their heads. 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.”


“It’s human instinct to survive…but Mother Nature has other plans.”

Title: Stranded
Author: Melinda Bruan
Series: Standalone
Publication: August 25th 2015 by Simon Pulse
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher at ALA

Summary from Goodreads:

Plagued with guilt after surviving the car accident that took her sister’s life, Emma ventures into the rugged and mysterious wilderness of the Boundary Waters in search of some much needed peace. But when a freak windstorm kills her guide, Emma and a handful of other campers are forced to fend for themselves. Lost, hungry, and exhausted, the small group must rely on their survival instincts as they travel through the forest towards Lake Superior.

But the Boundary Waters is vast and unpredictable, and as the days drag on, it becomes clear that the group is no match for what Mother Nature has in store—and time is running out.

As they continue to battle the elements, Emma realizes that nature isn’t her only threat: there’s one camper who will do whatever it takes to make it out of the Boundary Waters alive. Even if he’s the only one…

With ripped-from-the-headlines drama, this stirring story of heroism and survival will have you at the edge of your seat until the very last page.

My Thoughts:

Okay, I just have to say that I absolutely loved this book. I have to admit, I was afraid that this was going to be too much like The Hunger Games when it came to surviving in the forest – but Stranded completely blew me away. It was real, raw, and an all-around page turner in the truest sense of the word. I needed to know what was going to happen next, I felt their hunger and their fear – it was brilliant.
A lot of people are complaining about the repetitiveness of the chapters, of how it is the same struggle every day to find food, shelter, and water – but I loved it. To me, it was completely realistic. I think that was one of the things I loved the most about this book, none of it was glamorous. They stank, they struggled to use the restroom, and basic everyday things became the biggest hardship and battle. When you’re stranded like they are, of course you’re going to have to find food and water everyday if you don’t have enough. They only had small canteens to fill with water, four canteens for four people – that is a lot of necessary refilling. The drama with certain characters was the same yes, but that was also realistic. Bruan kept the drama centered around a particular character’s attitude – and the fact that it didn’t change impressed me, it shows the ability to keep things consistent. I know, character development and all that jazz – but this had nothing to do with that.
I don’t really know what else to say, this book was so amazing that I find myself at a loss for words. The characters were wonderful, each one had a distinct personality and all of them changed over the course of the book. Being stranded out in the wild changed them, as it rightfully should.

Overall, I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading, hiking, or the outdoors. Stranded really is entertaining, I loved it so much I can’t think of what to say right now. Maybe, one day I’ll come back and add more once I have had time to truly process the beauty that I just finished reading. I would leave this book for ages fourteen and up, there is some mild sexual harassment, cuss words, and the graphic nature of their situation could frighten people. I know this review is really short, but all I can say is this, go grab a copy before your next hiking/camping trip!

An Ember In The Ashes (Original Pub Date: 05/02/15)

“The field of battle is my temple. The sword point is my priest. The dance of death is my prayer. The killing blow is my release.”

Title: An Ember In The Ashes

Author: Sabaa Tahir

Series: An Ember In The Ashes # 1

Publication: April 28, 2015 by Razorbill

Pages: 446

Source: Bookshelf


Laia is a slave.

Elias is a soldier.

Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

My Thoughts:

I have been waiting for this book for ages, not only is it dystopian, but the world it takes place in is modeled after Ancient Rome. After entering countless giveaways and contests, I finally got this little beauty into my greedy hands on Tuesday. I actually held off starting the book because I was so excited, how could I not be? It mixed two of my favorite types of books together and had a synopsis and cover that left me salivating. It was that feeling of fear, you know? The one where you are too afraid to start what you know will be a wonderful book because you don’t want it to be over? This spurred from the fact that I had heard it ended on a huge cliffhanger and there was no word of a sequel, in fact, there are rumors it is going to be a standalone novel. Well, I finally started it – and then I devoured it.

This fast paced story is told from two perspectives: Elias and Laia. Elias is a Martial, but not only that, he is also a Mask. The Mask’s train at the infamous Blackcliff academy and are taught millions of ways to maim and kill while their humanity is basically sucked out of them through various degrading and horrific tasks. The Masks are terrifying, let me tell you – even Elias. Elias’ perspective was absolutely amazing to read, the way he thinks through his choices, the way he forces himself to choose and then torments himself with the guilt afterwards is absolutely heart wrenching. At first, I didn’t know if I hated him or if I liked him, but he slowly dug a little tunnel into my heart and then refused to let go. By the end, I absolutely loved him. Laia is a Scholar, part of a race of people who were invaded and enslaved by the Martials years before the story began. When the book starts she is not a slave, but she also does not lived a cushioned life. She lives with her grandparents, called Nan and Pop, because her parents are dead – I won’t talk about them, I don’t want to spoil the book for those who haven’t read it yet. When her home is raided by a Mask and a group of Legionaries, her brother is arrested for treason and she barely escapes with her life. She seeks the help of the Resistance to get him back, and as payment for their help Laia is forced to assume the position of slave and go to Blackcliff. She is forced to spy on the most dangerous person alive in this novel, the Commandant – who happens to be Elias’ mother.

The world they live in is brutal, and it terrified me to read about it. The characters, besides the two main ones and a select few individuals, are horrible human beings. The Commandant is evil incarnate and a complete sociopath, even her own son hates her. She tortures people for the fun of it, maimed a five year old to punish someone else, and allows the students at Blackcliff to rape her slaves as long as it doesn’t keep them from their duties. This book is full of torture, child abuse, the constant threat of rape, and a brutal attempted rape as well. But it works, it tears your heart out and makes you catch your breath. The stakes are higher, you feel the fear the character’s feel because the world is so cruel. It’s hard to not grind your teeth at the unfairness because you feel so powerless to stop it.

I enjoyed pretty much everything about this book. I liked the varied cast of characters and that Laia wasn’t a typical badass heroine but a scared girl going against her every instinct to save her brother. She is no Rose Hathaway, Tris, or Katniss Everdeen – but she holds her own in a way relatable to every girl out there without some special fighting skill or super power. I loved the use of prophecies and the way Elias has to try and understand what they mean in order to do the right thing. I loved the Augurs – a bunch of hooded holy men who claim to deliver prophecies. They reminded me of the Silent Brothers from Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments. I love how you never know what the hell is actually going on until it is too late. I love the suspense, the anger and frustration it made me feel – everything. I can’t even find anything to be nitpicky about while writing this review it was just that good. The writing was flawless, certain statements thought provoking, and the setting as vivid and terrifying as your worst nightmares yet beautiful at the same time.

If I had to choose one thing to sort of nag about, it was how there was sort of a love square. Not like the love square in The Host, this was between the two main characters and then two secondary characters from each respective point of view. It didn’t bother me because of the way it played into the story, both love triangles are significant enough to the plot that it was just another part of the story. The romance is not a driving force behind any of this book, so that made it tolerable. The story was so much more than choosing between two hot, drool-worthy guys. Each choice, each action, and every mistake had a cost that I would be terrified to pay. There were far bigger things at stake here, this wasn’t some book about picking between two guys or two girls – it was a brutal tale of surviving, no matter what it takes to do so.

An Ember in the Ashes made me angry. No, not angry – furious. I raged. I panicked. I hated. But I loved every single second of it. You know those rare books that make your heart pound and your breath shallow? Those books that the very thought of picking up to read makes you break out in goosebumps and want to faint from excitement? Those book where they take you so far out of your world and what you are used to that you have to remind yourself it isn’t real? For me, this was one of those books. Sabaa Tahir does not write like a debut author at all. Her writing is graceful and she takes the time to connect the characters with the readers, her descriptions are beautiful and the action scenes are powerful and aesthetically pleasing. An Ember in the Ashes was achingly beautiful despite the ending, which – with no clear word of a sequel – enraged me even more. I would recommend being fifteen, if not older, to read this book. Because of the violence, sexual assault, murders, and other sensitive topics – I don’t think this book is a good read for anyone under the age of fifteen. It has some hard hitting subjects in it, but that was the point. I can’t wait to see what happens next, that is, if we get to see what happens next.