So this week is Christmas! Consider me very befuddled by how fast this year seems to have flown by – I swear it was just February, and now 2015 is almost finished up! With that in mind, I decided to throw up another Never Enough Bookshelves book review. This book (or any of the ones I’ve reviewed in the past) would DEFINITELY be a great gift if you’re still in last-minute-oh-crap-I-still-need-to-find-another-gift mode.
Oh is this actually a book that was released this year, or even in the past couple of months (kindly ignore the fact that I’m scrambling to get it posted in 2015 LOL)? Shocking, I know. Frankly, my To Be Read Mountain is reaching Everest levels at this point; thus, the reviews of books that came out several years ago. I’ve also been recently informed/reminded that authors really benefit from reviews of their backlist, as well, which makes me a lot less guilty about failing to review new books right around when they come out. Doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying to reach the newer books to share with the public, but I definitely will continue gushing over the older books I stumble on or reread and realize I never reviewed.
Consider this your warning.
So, VENGEANCE ROAD by Erin Bowman is the first “new” release (or at least recent release since it just came out on September 1st… which OK is still 3ish months ago, but baby steps, right?) book to make the Never Enough Bookshelves list. And oh holy, does it ever deserve to be here.
I suppose I should start by admitting that I was raised on Westerns, y’all. My dad owned the fancy leather bound complete Louis L’Amour collection. I have no idea how many John Wayne movies I’ve seen in my lifetime – the likely answer is all of them. All of the John Wayne classics. I own boxsets for both the Magnificent Seven TV remake and The Young Riders. I was this close to being an extra in the True Grit remake a few years back (I found out two days before the casting call and the person who said they’d take my headshot for the application bailed on me – I was way crushed.)
The lack of Westerns to read that were at least somewhat female friendly has always bummed me out a little, but I compensated by leaning towards SFF or YA and just let it go.
So just imagine my excitement when I learned there was a female-protagonist YA Western coming out (well two actually, but the other is still in the TBR mountain – I will review it at a later date, I promise). Seriously, I was super excited about the concept, and THEN I saw the cover. I know you’re not supposed to judge by it, but holy hell did I ever judge in the most thrilled way possible. The cover was just utterly gorgeous – and if I had been on the fence about checking out the book, the artwork would have convinced me to read it. I honestly think it’s probably my favorite cover that I personally got in my hot little hands – and considering the lovely covers that have been flying across twitter all year, that says a hell of a lot.
(I wasn’t on the fence – I wanted to read the hell out of this book as soon as I knew it existed. The cover was just a bonus!)
So anyway, on to the book itself. Erin Bowman did an incredible job of writing a Western, from the gritty content to the setting that made me feel the dust against my skin as Kate did on the trail. All of the characters and their personal backstories and struggles drew me in, and I was rooting for them as much as I was for Kate.
Even the ending, bittersweet in a lot of ways that it was, definitely felt appropriate to the genre and true to the story that had unfolded. Kate’s “happy” ending has a lot of loss to it, but there’s a chance for love there, as well, and that just felt perfect to me.
And good lord, the RESEARCH! The legend that inspired the story was one I’d heard of in passing, but had never really imagined in its entirety. I can happily say that I went out and looked it up after reading VR, and Erin Bowman’s imagining of how the legend might have come to be really worked for me.
My one complaint (and not even really a complaint as it worked well in general just made me slip up on occasion) was regarding some of the dialect that the book was written in. I don’t know why the thick Western accent apparently works better in a film than on paper for me, but it does. For the first few chapters, reading the dialect threw me out of the story a little, but once I got used to it, I stopped noticing it. That said, it really was well done – consistent throughout the book and true to the genre, and adding just a bit more of the Old West flavor to the whole of the story.
Really, the book just blew me away on basically all fronts. If you are at all a fan of Westerns or strong female protags in YA, I really think you’ll enjoy the hell out of it.
So are any of you Western fans? Did you read and enjoy VENGEANCE ROAD as much as I did? Have another book to rec that you think I’d enjoy and would like to see featured on Never Enough Bookshelves? Let me know on Twitter @C_L_McCollum