Tag Archives: Western

True Grit meets The Road in Beth Lewis’ The Wolf Road

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True Grit meets The Road in Beth Lewis’ The Wolf Road

The comparison between The Wolf Road and True Grit meets Cormac McCarthy’s The Road isn’t far from the mark.  I can easily imagine the Coen brothers adapting this horror of a western set in a post-apocalyptic version of a kill or be killed future. That means that readers will find the setting cinematic in its detail, the characters dynamic in their conflicts, and a story that is equal parts contemplative and bloody minded action.  I gave it five stars, and fellow reviewers on Goodreads are giving it high marks as well.  It doesn’t seem fair to give you a glimpse of this book and then tell you it doesn’t publish until Tuesday, July 5, but it is one that I can definitely say is worth the wait for fans of westerns and the end times.

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Goodreads Summary

True Grit meets The Road in this postapocalyptic psychological thriller–narrated by a young girl who has just learned that her adopted father may be a serial killer, and that she may be his next victim.

In the remote wilds of a ravaged land, Elka has been raised by a man who isn’t her father. Since finding her wandering in the woods when she was seven, he has taught her how to hunt, shoot, set snares and start fires–everything she needs to survive. All she knows of the world outside is gleaned from whispers of a cataclysmic event that turned the clock back on civilization by a hundred and fifty years and reduced governments and technology to shambles, leaving men at the mercy of the elements–and each other.

Everything changes when Elka learns that the man she has been calling father is harboring a terrible secret. Armed with nothing but her knife and her wiles, she decides to escape his clutches and sets out on a long journey to the frozen north in the hope of finding her long-lost parents.

But as the trail of blood and bodies grows in her path, Elka realizes that daddy won’t be letting his little girl go without a fight. If she’s going to survive, she’ll have to turn and confront not just him, but the truth about what he’s turned her into.

My Thoughts

Elka, the narrator is a strong and distinctive voice that is pitch perfect for the duality of her character.  She is both a no-nonsense, determined survivor and a victim seeking redemption and revenge, a mix that has always found favor in westerns.  She isn’t the only character that has a satisfying complexity, either.  Villains and allies have that blend of vulnerability and steel that make the population of this desperate world come alive.  While I found some lulls in the action, the time was used to develop surprising traits and revelations about the people I thought I knew, and I read them as eagerly as I read the bloody and violent battles for survival.  Frankly, I found it hard to put this book down, and I think others will as well.  Language and violence make this more of an adult novel than a YA, but the narrative perspective and the themes make for a story that will hit home with teens despite and perhaps because of the brutality inherent in the tale.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Revenge and the Wild

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Revenge and the Wild

I was very excited to read this book because I love westerns, and this one has the added bonuses of cannibals, magic, and a mechanical hand.  It was a steampunk western of sorts, and I mention that because the tone will appeal more to readers who appreciate both genres than readers who are simply looking for a western. It’s not quite Army of Darkness meets True Grit, but that is the comparison I just couldn’t quit making.  While that sounds very cool, it just never really worked for me.  I gave Revenge in the Wild three stars.

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Goodreads Summary

The two-bit town of Rogue City is a lawless place, full of dark magic and saloon brawls, monsters and six-shooters. But it’s perfect for seventeen-year-old Westie, the notorious adopted daughter of local inventor Nigel Butler.

Westie was only a child when she lost her arm and her family to cannibals on the wagon trail. Nine years later, Westie may seem fearsome with her foul-mouthed tough exterior and the powerful mechanical arm built for her by Nigel, but the memory of her past still haunts her. She’s determined to make the killers pay for their crimes—and there’s nothing to stop her except her own reckless ways.

But Westie’s search ceases when a wealthy family comes to town looking to invest in Nigel’s latest invention, a machine that can harvest magic from gold—which Rogue City desperately needs as the magic wards that surround the city start to fail. There’s only one problem: the investors look exactly like the family who murdered Westie’s kin. With the help of Nigel’s handsome but scarred young assistant, Alistair, Westie sets out to prove their guilt. But if she’s not careful, her desire for revenge could cost her the family she has now.

This thrilling novel is a remarkable tale of danger and discovery, from debut author Michelle Modesto.

My Thoughts

Westie has a serious desire for revenge on the family of cannibals who took the lives of her family as well as her arm, and I just didn’t think the gravity of the situation paired well with the whimsy of the setting.  The magical Indian maiden warrior and the mythical creatures, the airships and the clockwork mechanisms were at odds with Westie and her goals.  I don’t think my feelings will be universal, and for the right reader, this will be a fun and phenomenal blend, but I personally found it hard to connect with the characters who never made the leap from characters to real people.

The plot does contain action, mystery, and romance, all of which are enhanced by the unexpected twists and turns of a world I haven’t seen before.  It is a fully realized world, too, and one that is easy to envision and still surprising.  The plot does give relationships time to evolve and develop, and it gives readers the opportunity to make inferences, so it isn’t overwrought with backstory.  I found the romantic relationship rather endearing, and it is a complex situation with a universal appeal, so I think most readers will enjoy that subplot as well.  The story does end with a satisfactory resolution that twisted right at the end to foil my best predictions, which is always a pleasure.

I do think most of my high school readers will struggle with the pairing of western and steampunk.  The steampunk genre really hasn’t caught on with my students and that mix of whimsy and serious revenge will be hard for them to rectify in one work.  Language and situations are appropriate for high school readers.

I received an ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Walk On Earth A Stranger is Rae Carson’s start to a new western series, and it is phenomenal!

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Walk On Earth A Stranger is Rae Carson’s start to a new western series, and it is phenomenal!

I loved this book from the moment I saw the cover – I have bloodhound senses for westerns, and I knew this book was exactly what I needed in my life.  I was so right.  The majority of the book takes place on a wagon train headed to the Calofornia goldfields, and I cannot explain how very happy that made me – thank you, creators of The Oregon Trail computer game – you instilled a lifelong obsession! This book is going to make so many readers so happy that they took a chance on it.  I don’t care if you hate historical fiction or if you dislike westerns or if you didn’t like Rae Carson’s other books – this book is absolutely worth your time. You can sample the first chapter (which includes author annotations and sketches) via this link if you don’t want to take me at my word.

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Goodreads Summary

Lee Westfall has a secret. She can sense the presence of gold in the world around her. Veins deep beneath the earth, pebbles in the river, nuggets dug up from the forest floor. The buzz of gold means warmth and life and home—until everything is ripped away by a man who wants to control her. Left with nothing, Lee disguises herself as a boy and takes to the trail across the country. Gold was discovered in California, and where else could such a magical girl find herself, find safety?

Walk on Earth a Stranger, the first book in this new trilogy, introduces—as only Rae Carson can—a strong heroine, a perilous road, a fantastical twist, and a slow-burning romance. Includes a map and author’s note on historical research.

My Thoughts

Action, adventure, romance and lessons about loyalty and family make this both a joy to read and a book to ponder.  The protagonist, Lee is a smart, determined, and tough girl, and she is also one of the most lonely souls in YA fiction right now.  Readers will be drawn to her character, not just because of the empathy her situation evokes, but also for her innate goodness.  She wants so much to embrace the people around her, but her secret forces her to keep a part of herself back, and others sense and respond to that distance.  That is what makes her plight universal – almost everyone has experienced the isolation and sadness that come with having to keep part of yourself concealed.  The cast of secondary characters do initially feel repelled by her standoffish behavior, but as her true nature begins to shine through her disguise, they are drawn to her –  You can change your appearance, but you usually can’t hide who you really are.  I’ll admit this book wasn’t exactly what I expected, but I am not in the least disappointed.  I was expecting more of a quest, and I worried it would be too close to the other western YA that just published, Erin Bowman’s Vengance Road (excellent read as well).  This book is more about Lee’s journey West than a quest for gold or revenge, but it is also her journey towards finding her place in the world.  There is plenty of action and conflict, but it was quite contemplative as well.  It is well paced to develop the plot, the characters, and the relationships.  I didn’t savor it because I devour good stuff, but I know it is a book that I will come back to time and again.  The resolution, while satisfying, does leave room for additional books in the series, and I will certainly be looking forward to reading them. Five star perfection!

I received an ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Erin Bowman’s Vengeance Road is the book I have been dying to share with you.

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Erin Bowman’s Vengeance Road is the book I have been dying to share with you.

Vengeance Road was one of my most anticipated reads this year (that cover had me salivating) – it isn’t often I find a YA western, and it is hardest to find any western with a female protagonist. This book absolutely lived up to my expectations. This is my idea of a five star book.  I don’t think you have to be a fan of westerns to really enjoy this book. There is a quest with plenty of action and adventure, there is a mystery with several surprising twists, and there is a coming of age story about a girl who loses her whole world and must rebuild herself. There might even be a little romance. Fans of Charles Portis and Louis L’Amour will certainly want to snap this book up, but if you enjoyed Blood Red Road or Stone Rider, you are going to want to give this a look.  Vengeance Road is publishing September 1, 2015.

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Goodreads Summary

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

Kate is a character who can stand tall and proud next to Mattie from True Grit or Echo Sackett from Ride the River.  She is smart and determined but she is also vulnerable and real.  The combination made her one of those characters who seems to live and breathe beyond the page.  The setting, too, is as artfully crafted as any western reader could want.  This isn’t a romanticized picture of a treasure hunt, the West or of outlaws.  Kate is on a dangerous journey through a nearly lawless land and an unforgiving landscape.  Trusting people can cost you your life.  The threats to Kate and her companions are real; Consequences can be deadly.  This book is also pretty impressive because of the pace of the story – it manages to keep the action going pretty consistently without seeming contrived.  It also manages to build backstory for a lot of characters without slipping into lulls.  I think it will hold the attention of even my most impatient and bloodthirsty high school guys, but it will also give my gals the emotional connections they crave with the characters. The only complaint I can see arising from a reader is the use of dialect.  Kate has the speech patterns that are comparable to what a reader might encounter in this time and place (or that you might encounter in more rural or isolated communities today).  It isn’t intrusive or overdone and it added to my picture of Kate’s character, but I know some people don’t appreciate the authenticity that regional dialect adds.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 7+ with the understanding that there is a lot of western violence.  Adult readers of YA will find this a rich and satisfying read as well.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Stone Rider By David Hofmeyr – just go buy it right now.  Seriously. 

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Stone Rider By David Hofmeyr – just go buy it right now.  Seriously. 

If you enjoy post apocalyptic settings and characters with grit and heart, you need to get this book right now.  It blew my mind.  This was a mix of True Grit and Mad Max, and I found it so compelling that I already bought a copy for the classroom library at the full hardback price.  It is so worth it.

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Goodreads Summary

“Intense, original, compelling . . . bristles with attitude. So cool. Just read it.”–Michael Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Gone and BZRK

In the vein of The Outsiders and the early Western novels of Elmore Leonard, this inventive debut novel, a cross between the cult classic Mad Max movie series and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, blends adrenaline-fueled action with an improbable yet tender romance to offer a rich and vivid portrayal of misfits and loners forced together in their struggle for a better life.
Adam Stone wants freedom and peace. He wants a chance to escape Blackwater, the dust-bowl desert town he grew up in. Most of all, he wants the beautiful Sadie Blood. Alongside Sadie and the dangerous outsider Kane, Adam will ride the Blackwater Trail in a brutal race that will test them all, body and soul. Only the strongest will survive.
The prize? A one-way ticket to Sky-Base and unimaginable luxury.
And for a chance at this new life, Adam will risk everything.
My Thoughts

This was an excellent read.  Touted as a Wild West meets Mad Max Bildungsroman, Stone Rider lived up to my expectations.  Adam lives in a brutal and violent future where you mine the precious commodity at the Earth’s core or you race.  Adam comes from a line of racers – men who risk their lives in a dangerous trek across a wasteland reminiscent of the Wild West.  Expect a vicious and brutal adventure where a boy who thinks his best chance is found in trusting no one, learns the importance of friendship and support.  I liked Adam.  His biggest weakness is his empathy for fellow man, and like any good person, he pays for that soft spot again and again.  I loved the way he was able to grow as a character but retain the best parts of himself in the process.  I also liked the cast of secondary characters.  Adam’s love interest is one tough chick, and while she had her own limitations, I found her a lady warrior that I could admire.  Kane, Adam’s enigmatic ally, however, is the stuff my sometimes still girlish dreams are made of!  While I am fangirling, please don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a “girl” book.  This is definitely one the guys will appreciate.  It is fast paced, taking readers through the highs and lows of the hero’s journey, and the ending was a coin toss right up until the end.  There were a lot of corpses littering the desert road of this race, and those who didn’t die might sometimes wish they had.   Language and situations are probably grade 9+, but I think that blood thirsty middle schoolers will devour it and learn some important lessons about what it means to be tough in the process.  As an adult reader, I found I couldn’t put it down.

This book is available in our classroom library because it is awesome, and I am awesome!  Enjoy!

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.