Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Review | Under A Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

Under A Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
Published by Putnam Juvenile
Publish Date: March 17, 2015

Source: Book - Library, Audiobook - Bought
Find It: Goodreads / Amazon 

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.   (excerpt from Goodreads)

Under A Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

My Thoughts:  I just finished a reread of Under A Painted Sky by Stacey Lee and I loved that while I read the same story twice , I essentially read a different story both times. 

The first time I read Under A Painted Sky I was so excited to read a book about THE OREGON TRAIL! THE OREGON TRAIL! that that is what I picked up on mostly: the setting, the trail + the amazing friendship between Andy and Sammy. Andy and Sammy are two females that disguise themselves as cowBOYS to escape a really awful situation back in Missouri. They head west, meet up with other cowboys, and have to continue faking as boys in order to survive on the plains, risking everything for their freedom. I thought it was exciting and brilliant and lovely, and really just one of the best books that I read in 2015. 


When I read (listened to) this book as a reread, I was able to dig much deeper into the story and I heard more. This often happens, and is why I love rereading via audio so much. In a story like this one - where there is so much at stake, so much emotion involved - it just makes the story leap even higher off of the pages and land even deeper into my heart. 

What I read/heard this time:

- Samantha's grief at losing her father very early in the story never lessens, not once. She speaks to her father throughout the book, but it is heartbreaking. She feels responsible for his death. She feels guilt over so many things. She does not want to continue without him. She honors him with her words. The appreciation she has for Annamae. 

- Annamae's fear at being a runaway slave. The stories of her faith, confidently spoken. The encouragement she gives Sam. The hope she has at finding her brothers, cruelly taken from her as slaves. The appreciation she has for being free, even on the run. 

- The emotion in the backstories of Cay, West, and Peety. They are more than strong cowboys. They all have their own issues. 

- The onions. The onions. The onions. 

There is more, and this is not the first time a reread has meant a lot to me. THIS is a good book to have on your reread-radar if you like indulging in books once again. When I had hard time collecting my thoughts on why I loved this book so much the first time I finished it, I knew I would need to read it again, and now everything is so much more clear. 

Ultimately my favorite thing about Under A Painted Sky is the incredible friendship that Samantha and Annamae created under an intense and stressful circumstance. I think that theirs is the type that lasts a lifetime because it is true and already tested. I love reading relationships like this. I love the setting. I love the super strong women. I love everything about this book. 

Audiobook NotesThe audiobook format of Under A Painted Sky by Stacey Lee is published by Tantor Audio and is 10 hours and 11 minutes, Unabridged. It is narrated by Emily Woo Zeller who is so, so great at the emotion that Samantha's character brings forth in this story; she also reads a brilliant Annamae. Emily is great at voicing the accents in this story. She is new to me with this book but I have noticed that she reads several of the books on my wishlist. I would (and have) highly recommended this audiobook for first reads and rereads. 


Under A Painted Sky will appeal to fans of:

Young Adult Historical Fiction
Strong female protagonists
Great friendships/relationships
Great Setting: The Oregon Trail

Under A Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
is currently available for purchase. 


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Monday, February 1, 2016

Review | The House Girl by Tara Conklin

The House Girl by Tara Conklin
Published by William Morrow
Publish Date: February 12, 2013

Source: Book - Library, Audiobook - Library
Find It: Goodreads / Amazon 

Virginia, 1852. Seventeen-year-old Josephine Bell decides to run from the failing tobacco farm where she is a slave and nurse to her ailing mistress, the aspiring artist Lu Anne Bell. New York City, 2004. Lina Sparrow, an ambitious first-year associate in an elite law firm, is given a difficult, highly sensitive assignment that could make her career: she must find the “perfect plaintiff” to lead a historic class-action lawsuit worth trillions of dollars in reparations for descendants of American slaves.

It is through her father, the renowned artist Oscar Sparrow, that Lina discovers Josephine Bell and a controversy roiling the art world: are the iconic paintings long ascribed to Lu Anne Bell really the work of her house slave, Josephine? A descendant of Josephine’s would be the perfect face for the reparations lawsuit—if Lina can find one. While following the runaway girl’s faint trail through old letters and plantation records, Lina finds herself questioning her own family history and the secrets that her father has never revealed: How did Lina’s mother die? And why will he never speak about her?

Moving between antebellum Virginia and modern-day New York, this searing, suspenseful and heartbreaking tale of art and history, love and secrets, explores what it means to repair a wrong and asks whether truth is sometimes more important than justice.

The House Girl by Tara Conklin

My ThoughtsThe House Girl is a dual-narrative story told by Josephine Bell and Lina Sparrow. Josephine is a seventeen-year-old slave from the 1850's, looking to escape. Lina is a young attorney living in the present time. She is working on a huge slave reparations case and learns about Josephine Bell through some of the people that her artist father know in his art community. Josephine worked as a slave in the house of artist Lu Ann Bell. Recently, the authenticity of Lu Ann's art has been questioned, with Josephine suspected as the true artist. Lina is looking to find Josephine's descendants - if she has any - because linking this type of publicity to this slave reparations case could potentially influence the outcome as well as the public perception of the case. Lina is following up on Josephine's story very closely and this, in the art world of both the past and the present, is where the lives of the two women intersect.

First of all, I just love the way the art is written into this story. It was easy to visualize each piece of art discussed because of its seamless placement into the narrative. 

I also love the two-POV structure in this book, particularly since Josephine's time setting is one of my absolute favorite in literature. I found her story so compelling; her voice is so strong. Recently I reread via audiobook during a move from one home to another, there were a few instances were I was so captivated by Josephine's portion of the story that I was brought to a standstill - no packing or unpacking. I had to completely stop and concentrate on her story as she told it, even though I had heard it before. When her chapter was complete, I felt free to move again. I love when audio rereads grab me in this way. 

I have to be honest here and say that Lina's portion of the story just didn't hold my interest as much as Josephine's did. Lina's story was a good one, and there was plenty to it, but it held less emotion to me. Perhaps this is because I'm so attracted to historical fiction. 

This is one heck of a story that easily flew to my favorites shelf. The ending felt a teensy bit abrupt or unexplored, but even so, this story is exceptional. After I read it the first time (November 2015) I couldn't stop thinking about it, which is why I reread it so soon (January 2016). 

Audiobook NotesThe audiobook format of The House Girl by Tara Conklin is published by Harper Audio and is 14 hours and 46 minutes, Unabridged. It is narrated by Bahni Turpin who was so doggone believable as Josephine Bell, I promise you that my heart raced at some points and my breath caught at others.


The House Girl will appeal to fans of:

Historical Fiction/Contemporary
Dual-Narration/Alternating POV
Strong female protagonists

The House Girl by Tara Conklin
is currently available for purchase.