Off the Shelf: A Review of Blood for Blood by Ryan Graudin

Almost a year ago, I was receiving Wolf by Wolf as my first book of my Uppercase YA lit subscription box. The book really opened my eyes to something I thought I hated – alternate historical fiction. It gave me Yael, a bloodthirsty, skinshifting survivor of the death camps, and a heroine that really kept me entranced in her story. I read her story in a matter of hours one day, and I’ve been waiting not-so-patiently to find out what happens to her. Luckily, I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, and by the time you read this review, you’ll hardly have to wait for the book at all! Blood for Blood will hit shelves November 1st, and here’s why you need to pick it up:

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Release date: November 1, 2016

Summary (via Goodreads)
There would be blood.
Blood for blood.
Blood to pay.
An entire world of it.

For the resistance in 1950s Germany, the war may be over, but the fight has just begun.

Death camp survivor Yael, who has the power to skinshift, is on the run: the world has just seen her shoot and kill Hitler. But the truth of what happened is far more complicated, and its consequences are deadly. Yael and her unlikely comrades dive into enemy territory to try to turn the tide against the New Order, and there is no alternative but to see their mission through to the end, whatever the cost.

But dark secrets reveal dark truths, and one question hangs over them all: how far can you go for the ones you love?

Things I Liked:

At the end of Wolf by Wolf, we know that the whole world believes that Yael has succeeded in killing Hitler. Only the reader and Yael know that isn’t true. She’s killed a skinshifter pretending to be Hitler, rather than the man himself. So, in Blood for Blood, we are launched immediately into the heat of the action. Sprinkled in, you’ll also find flashbacks that reveal pieces of Luka and Felix’s pasts this time, showing how all of the characters had very different yet torturous upbringings that helped shape who they are in the present and gives light to their motivations. I remember being so wrapped up in Yael during Wolf by Wolf that I didn’t quite give the other characters a whole lot of thought. Now, I’m especially smitten with Luka. He’s reckless, dangerous, too ridiculously charismatic to ignore, but we also see a softer side that’s going to make the fangirls swoon.

You might recall that in my review of Wolf by Wolf, I said that I enjoyed that it wasn’t a love story. That changes in this book, and I’m actually quite happy about it. Love can be a powerful motivator, and I enjoyed watching it develop slowly at all of the right moments.

There’s one moment in particular that Yael witnesses that will stop you in your tracks. Literally. I like to walk the library stacks on my lunch hour whenever I’m in one of those crazy Fitbit challenges, so I’m usually pacing back and forth between the books carrying my Kindle out in front of me. I was reading Blood for Blood, reached the moment in the story I’m referring to, and I just had to stop. I didn’t cry, but it was like a wave of emotion washed over me. I understood why that moment needed to happen, but I can tell you one thing – I was not prepared for it. Brace yourself. This book will grab you out of nowhere and crush you…crush you like a certain character’s fingers. Just you wait and see.

I think the best way to describe Blood for Blood is INTENSE. The action never stops.  At some points, I was reminded of V for Vendetta (in a very, very good way), and I’d love it if one day we could see this story play out either in graphic or film form.

Things I Didn’t Like:

Just like with Wolf by Wolf, I’m going to struggle to find something wrong with this book because I enjoyed it so thoroughly. If I have to pick something, I’d say that some parts were somewhat predictable. I had Hitler and the skinshifters figured out pretty early and a few other small parts, but I failed to put all of the pieces together before the big reveal. That’s not even a bad thing because the choices Graudin made in telling this story made it exactly the story that I wanted to read. I think the only thing I really missed were the post its from Uppercase that gave readers access to bonus materials that helped illustrate certain plot points. I would have loved to have had those for this book, and probably for every book that I read.

Oh – I know one thing I didn’t like! It doesn’t have any bearing on the book, but it needs mentioned just in case there’s some other person out there who has this in their mind the way I did. This series will not be a trilogy! Correct me if I’m just crazy, but I distinctly remember checking Goodreads after finishing the first book and seeing that there were three books planned in the series. I had this in mind while reading Blood for Blood, and as things started to wrap up and the loose ends became tied up, all I wanted to do was scream, “No! There has to be more!”I’ve since checked Goodreads and found that Wolf by Wolf #3 no longer exists. Now, there’s just Wolf by Wolf, Blood for Blood, and Iron to Iron (a small novella that is meant to be read between the two). Am I crazy? Was I imagining a trilogy all along? Maybe so. Either way, I’m so sad that this series has come to an end. I’ll definitely be reading more from Ryan Graudin in the future.

Overall Rating:

This book deserves a solid 5/5. I gave Wolf by Wolf a 4.5/5, and this book definitely surpassed the first. Pick this series up, you won’t be sorry. It’s ready and waiting to take you on one of the most intense adventures you can experience in between the pages of a book. Don’t miss out!

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Dream Big: My Thoughts on Meeting Cat Winters

Somewhere in the depths of my drafts folder is my original review of The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters. It’s nothing like the review I wrote that was printed in the local newspaper, which detailed many of the reasons why I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but did not discuss the plethora of personal reasons behind those feelings. My original review delved into the severe depression I’d been stuck in for some time and how I’d lost sight of myself and my passions, including reading. It was deeply personal, raw, and in the end, too uncomfortable for me to share with the world. I talked about why I found hope in Olivia Mead’s strength and resilience, her desire to be herself despite the backlash from others. I took in every word of The Cure for Dreaming slowly, carefully, as if it could help piece me back together, and in a way, I believe it did. Reading The Cure for Dreaming was the first time in a long while that I felt like a little piece of myself was restored, and I was able to block out all of the chaos happening in my life at that time and just enjoy reading. It spoke to me, told me not to let the monsters overpower my sense of self worth, and for that reason, it will always remain one of my favorite books. It took some time to put myself back together, but I treasure The Cure for Dreaming as one of the catalysts to that recovery.

The Cure for Dreaming wasn’t my first book read from Cat Winters. I discovered her thanks to her debut young adult novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds. I fell in love with her haunting and mysterious takes on historical fiction. Her work was inspiring, a style so fresh and unique that my most common remark was that I wished more than anything that I could write like her.

Every two years, my library hosts the Ohio River Festival of Books. When they started planning the 2016 festival, my boss asked for suggestions of authors we might want to try to contact about speaking at the festival. I don’t think she even got to finish her sentence before I was throwing out Cat Winters’s name. In all honesty, I never thought it would happen. I knew Cat lived all the way in Portland, and I didn’t think she’d want to make the trip all the way to little ol’ Huntington, West Virginia, but I thought it was worth a shot. Dreams can come true sometimes, right?

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It happened. It really, REALLY happened. October 1st, I had the pleasure of meeting Cat Winters at the Ohio River Festival of Books. I had already sort of built up in my head what she would be like just from our brief interactions on Twitter and such, but I can tell you this – She is everything I thought she would be, and so much more!

Cat talked at length about how she’d spent her entire life writing, and the struggles she faced in her journey towards publication. She’d fortunately always had the support of her family, and to further illustrate that, she introduced the audience to her parents. They had driven several hours from northern Ohio to be able to see her speak at our book festival. Her mom and dad were just as sweet and kind as their daughter, even asking for a photo of Cat and me together. Her mother was especially beaming with pride as she watched the presentation and when she later spoke with the local news about the festival. Seeing them all together made me very thankful that my family has never discouraged my interest in writing…now, if only I could stop discouraging myself!

Cat read from each of her books, discussed the history behind them, and even bribed some audience members (myself included) with chocolate from Oregon to act out two parallel scenes from Hamlet and The Steep and Thorny Way.

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Photo credit goes to my lovely cousin, Traci, who was in attendance to make sure I didn’t pass out from fangirling too hard.

After her presentation, Cat did a signing. I consider myself a pretty lucky girl because my boyfriend had taken the reviews I wrote for the local paper for The Cure for Dreaming and The Steep and Thorny Way and had them matted and framed. I love that I was able to have Cat sign this, as well as my copy of The Cure for Dreaming, where she wrote, “Dream big”. That phrase has been in my mind since meeting her, which was a big dream of mine in the first place, but now I’m consumed by other big dreams. Mostly, I dream of actually publishing a book of my own, to finally have my name on the cover of something I have created, to have a space on the bookshelf where anyone can find it. These are big dreams, and to make them come true, first I will actually have to finish a project. I know that my life is beyond hectic this year (see the note at the end of this post), but it will also be my fifth year as a NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison for my local region. I love National Novel Writing Month and the motivation and urge to create it sparks. While I know the likelihood of me actually busting out 50,000 words in probably my busiest month so far this year isn’t very high, I currently have two young adult projects that I’ve been going back and forth between. Hopefully, with the extra motivation from all of my local Wrimos, I’ll be able to make a considerable dent in working towards my dream.

Julie Kagawa tweeted last month saying, “Tell a writer whose book you loved that you loved it. A kind word means the world to us. #EncourageAwriter”. There was an outpouring of author-love all over Twitter, and I took this time to tell a few of my favorites what an inspiration they’ve been to me. Cat Winters was one author who I felt truly needed recognized. Open any of her books and you’ll find a wealth of research, genuine talent, and truly immersive stories. I really encourage anyone and everyone to read her books. It just might change your life. 🙂

You can find out more about Cat Winters by visiting her website: www.catwinters.com

One last thing…

You may have noticed that there’s been a pretty long stretch of time between me getting to meet Cat Winters and finally posting this (not to mention, a long time between this and my last blog post). I promise, there’s a real reason behind it, and it’s not that I’ve just been lazy.
I am incredibly thrilled to say that I’ve accepted a new job as a branch manager for one of the libraries in our system! It’s very exciting and, at the same time, very bittersweet, since I’ll be leaving behind my incredible work family in Youth Services. BUT this is definitely something I’ve dreamed of since beginning my career in libraries, and I will still be working with all of the same wonderful people, just in a different capacity! I’ve been pretty busy transitioning between the two locations and also balancing my life at home, in grad school, and my writing time, so I promise I’ll be getting back to posting regularly. I’ve been granted early access to some popular upcoming YA titles, and I can’t wait to tell you all about them! Until then, dream big!