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Samantha will always regret the argument she had with her father before she stormed out of her house that fateful day in 1849. She never has the chance to apologize to him, for when she returns she finds her home engulfed in flames with her father inside. Grief-stricken from her father's tragic death, the fifteen-year old Chinese-American girl finds herself homeless and alone in an unwelcoming Missouri town. She is grateful when her father's landlord offers to put her up in one of his hotels for the night, until he forces his way into her room later that evening to induct her into his stable of "exotic" ladies of the night in exchange for her room & board. In the ensuing struggle, Samantha unintentionally kills her would-be rapist. Knowing that the law would not look favorably on a Chinese girl murdering a wealthy white man--even if he did try to force himself on her--she must go on the run. With the aide of Annamae, the landlord's teenage slave who had her own plans of escape to freedom, the girls disguise themselves as boys and head out west on the Oregon Trail during the California gold rush. They join a small band of young cowboys on their dangerous trek through the wilderness, all the while lawmen and bounty hunters are on the lookout for the girls and the notorious Broken Hand Gang roam the western trail.
Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
My Rating: 5 out of 5  

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I could not have selected a better novel to conclude my Winter Reading Challenge. Under a Painted Sky is captivating with a lyrical style that makes the beauty and wonder of the mid-western landscape jump off the page. I also highly recommend the excellent audio book narrated by Emily Woo Zeller, whose amazing vocal performance brought a fresh dimension to the diverse set of characters in the novel. She switched between foreign accents and phrases flawlessly (including Chinese, French, Scottish, Mexican Spanish and a Texas drawl) and made the already vivid characters come to life in such a magical way. The plot and pacing of the story were executed so masterfully that I am still shocked this is a debut novel! There was just the right mix of humor, adventure and excitement to balance the dramatic tension, danger and sadness. I loved reading every page of this novel. The story was so engrossing, the characters so wonderful, and I was so emotionally invested from beginning to end that I had a difficult time putting the book down. It's definitely one my favorite books I've read in the past several years! I appreciated the unique perspective of a Chinese-American female protagonist in a western story and loved learning snippets about Chinese culture along the way. I never thought I would read a western, let alone fall in the love with it, but I did! This year I plan on reading many more diverse books so I'm happy that I'm off to such a great start with Under a Painted Sky, Iron Cast and The House on Mango Street!

Well, this concludes my Winter Reading Challenge. I hope to be back in the summer with a new reading challenge, but until then you may see some posts relating to my graduate courses pop up on my blog throughout the semester so stay tuned!

#1 - The Assistants by Camille Perri
#2 - Behave by Andromeda Romano-Lax
#3 - The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
#4 - Iron Cast by Destiny Soria
#5 - Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee