Book Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray

Title: The Diviners

Author: Libba Bray

Series: The Diviners

Rating: 5 stars

Review:

It was only meant to be a harmless brag, a little showing off at a party after she had a few drinks too many. But when Evie O’Neill proves to everyone that she has a psychic power – the ability to see a person’s memories by holding an object of theirs – she lands in one hell of a mess. Accidentally accusing the son of a wealthy and powerful family of knocking up a maid means Evie better skip town for a while, until the heat dies down. She is thrilled when her parents suggests that she stay with her uncle Will in fabulous New York City, and just knows that this will be her chance to find her way to stardom. Even if it does mean working at Will’s freaky museum, dedicated to the Supernatural and the Occult.

But a string of ritualistic murders leaves the city in terror, the police ask Will to help and Evie is determined to tag along. With her and Jericho – Will’s quiet but strong assistant – to help, Evie knows that not only will they stop the killer, but that she is sure to end up on the front page. That’s if she can stay alive first…

I will confess that I haven’t read many fantasy or Young Adult books set in the 1920’s (in fact, none others come to mind), but after finishing The Diviners this is something I strive to change, in the hopes that they are as good as Libba Bray’s wonderful book. The Diviners is a somewhat deceptive book, in that it starts in a fairly mild manner: the focus is on Evie and her hopes and dreams as she moves to New York. We are shown the paranormal talent that Evie possesses in being able to read a person’s history from a beloved item as way of explanation as to what trouble she caused that ended up with her having to hide out in New York until things calmed down at home, but this is almost forgotten about in nearly the first half of the book. Never fear though, for instead we are treaded to the gilts and glamour of the Big Apple. The level of descriptions and detail in this book is amazing – clearly there has been a lot of research put into it – and I believe it all pays off big time. As the story progresses tension grows as a serial killer attacks taking pieces of his victims and leaving behind pieces of scriptures about ‘offerings’, the whole book becoming decidedly creepier and brilliantly scary. We also get glimpses of other people with talents similar to Evie’s, teasing hints of bigger things out there in the world of this story, which sadly won’t be further explored until the rest of the series.

The other great thing about The Diviners is the number of varied and complex character there are. No-one is 2D in this story, and some you might at first dismiss as ‘shallow’ or ‘ignorant’ but when you learn about their past, you see them in a whole new life, and can’t help but love them. One of the most moving back stories for me was that of Thata, who may seem a stereotypical flapper at first but who has a past so dark it’s like a punch to the gut to read (but then again, some of the best writing is like that). I also loved the budding romance between her and Memphis, which was just plain sweet. It is also a great example of a romance that has instant attraction and chemistry but is definitely not the dreaded intsa-love. Instead, it’s a slow but powerful burn that just makes you happy for both characters. Evie herself is testament to Libba Bray’s excellent writing. She starts off as a bit of a brat: she got into a lot of trouble by getting very drunk and showing of her special talent, but clearly hasn’t learnt her lesson as she continues to drink, and is always dying to be the centre of attention. But as we read, Evie grows, slowly but surely. We see her naivety as she is pick-pocketed virtually the moment she steps of the train into New York. We she her brave spirit as she confronts the thief a few days later. We see her kindness and love for her friends and her uncle as she adjusts to life in the city, helping to get her uncle’s museum more business (albeit in her own misguided way), tries to break her best friend Mabel out of her shell and out of her mother’s shadow, and adopts Thata into their friendship straight away. Evie reviles herself to be a much more complex character, and although we don’t get a full backstory from her, the pieces we see are just as heart-wrentching as all the others, and her need to be in the spotlight (her need to be loved) becomes clear. She is definitely a character that grows on you, without changing who she is.

My only (very minor) criticism of this book is that the narration has a tendency to jump from character to character within the same scene, sometimes even within the same paragraph. This can make it hard to keep track of who’s POV we are following. In particular it made Thata and Memphis’ first meeting a little confusing as the text refers to Thata by name but it’s only at the end of the scene Memphis actually learns her name.

Bottom line, I loved this book. And so begins the long arduous wait for the sequel.

5 stars.

Book Review: Vicious by V. E. Schwab

Title: Vicious

Author: V. E. Schwab

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

(Mild spoilers)

Victor Vale and Eli Ever. They were friends once, years ago. Two collage boy who found a similar keen intellect and a thirst for knowledge in each other. They had heard the rumours of people who were ExtraOrdinary, somehow more than human. Whilst researching how one can become an EO, Eli thinks he has found the key to gaining super human abilities. But then in one night, everything fell apart –  and two friends became bitter rivals.

Everyone is the hero of their own story. What they don’t tell you is there is a thin line between being a hero and a villain. But Eli knows, he knows he is the good guy. His mission is nobel, and he is the only one who can be trusted to do it. That was, until he discovers that Victor, his now nemesis, has somehow escaped from prison. This can only end in pain…

I’m a big fan of Victoria Schwab’s YA novels, which include The Near Witch, and The Archived series, and I also enjoy following her on social media so this, her first adult novel, has been high on my reading list for a long time. I also have a soft spot for X-Men style superheroes, so needless to say my expectations and hope for Vicious were very high. I am pleased to report that this book is one damn good read. I loved the process of having a near-death experience to become an EO, and found it clever how each person’s powers are linked to that experience and how they handled it/what they did to survive. This made each power unique and lead to an interesting dynamic between Eli and Victor’s powers: Eli can heal him self from any wound and Victor can cause pain. At first glance it would seem that super healing powers would mean that you couldn’t lose (or at least not easily), but how long would it take for your mind to break if would were tortured with pain for long enough? The characters were the other excellent part of this novel, my personally favourite being Victor (but I’ll admit I do love me a fictional bad boy). Despite being about superheroes, I don’t actually believe there are any heroes in Vicious, though Sydney’s story was quite sad, especially since she was only a child. I found Eli to be one of the most complex characters – he is the most terrifying type of villain, the one who unflinchingly believes himself to be a hero and who is dedicated to his own twisted set of ethics.

There were, however, a couple of things I didn’t enjoy as much. I didn’t really believe in the friendship between Eli and Victor, which was shown in flashback chapters throughout the first half of the book. I think because so little time was spent showing them as friends, most spent showing how they each became EO, the reader is told rather than shown this friendship. But then again, I think in some ways this was the point – that they had never truly been friends, but believed they had been. My main problem was the character of Angie, Eli’s girlfriend and Victor’s unrequited love. I felt that she wasn’t much of a character and before the read could get to know her she is killed off, simply to begin the feud between the two men. This is a widely used plot device within comic books and superhero stores, known colloquially as ‘women in fridges’, and I was very sad to see it appear in the works of a woman whom I admire.

Overall, this was a very good book, and with the somewhat open ending, I can only hope for a sequel.

4 stars.

Kindle Daily Deal: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Today’s Kindle Daily Deal (Amazon UK) is the creepy apocalyptic sci-fi The 5th Wave. I reviewed this book a little while ago finding it quite enjoyable, and I hear it’s going to become a movie in 2016. I think it will work great as a movie, as this book has a very cinematic feel. Even better, it’s only 99p.

Description:

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker.

Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

Book Review: The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Title: The Summer King

Author: Alaya Dawn Johnson

Rating: 2 stars

Review:

For the Queen to reign, the King must die…

In the city of Palmares Três, Brazil, the ritual of the Summer King has come again. One man will be chosen to wear the crown, one man who will win the hearts of all the people and choose the next Queen by spilling his own blood by her feet. It is a brutal tradition, but an ancient one that makes the city what it is.

June Costa has watch several Summer Kings before. Like the rest of the city she has cheered when they were crowned and cried at their deaths. It’s part of her culture, one she has never questioned. Until she meets Enki. Captivating and charming, he is chosen by many to be the next Summer King. Both June and her best friend Gil quickly fall for Enki – June sees in him the soul of an artist, one to match her own. Soon, June finds herself asking why the Sumer King must die as together they create a masterpiece that the whole of Palmares Três will never forget.

The Summer Prince had a lot of potential: it’s a post-apocolyptic, dystopic sci-fi novel featuring a Brazilian society run by women, focusing on the life of a struggling artist who falls for a boy who volunteered to sacrifice himself in a gruesome traditional ceremony that happens every few years to choose the city’s new Queen. Sounds impressive, right? Sadly, this book is pretty bad. Like many YA post-apocolyptic and/or dystopic novels not enough time is spent on the world building, and what there is focuses far too much on the what rather that the why. We are told exactly what happens to the Summer King – from the first death that started the tradition, to the choosing and voting which June participates in, to the final ceremony – but we are never told why a Summer King is needed. Seriously, of all the ways to choose a new monarch, why human sacrifice? And surely the acting of having a man always choose the Queen undermines the fact that the ruling council is deliberately made only of women? What’s worse is that the Summer King isn’t chosen based on their intellect or political knowhow. It’s literally a popularity contest, with talent shows and dressing up to wow the judges and gain votes from the public. It’d be like having the winner of the X-Factor choose the next Queen of England. (Though if this were real, I’d be far more inclined to vote for Jedward just to see them die at the end of it all.) I can’t comment on whether the depiction of Brazil was accurate or a exoticism, as I have sadly never been and don’t know that much about their culture.

I also greatly disliked the main character June. To put it bluntly, she’s a spoilt brat. She spends all her time partying and running around vandalising property in the name of ‘art’, but her life is so hard. Her so-wonderful, so-inspiring father who she still glorifies killed himself even though his family knew what he was planning and begged him not to and his daughter was only a teenager, then her mother had the cheek to try and find happiness again by re-marrying a woman who has done nothing but try to help June accomplish something with her life other than a hangover and a painted patch of wall where some crap graffiti used to be. (Hmm, that wasn’t as harsh in my mind. Oh well.) As for all the other characters they are pretty boring to be honest. In fact, that’s how I would summarise my whole experience with this book: boring. If you read the official blurb it mentions something about June and Enki ‘adding fuel to a growing rebellion against the government’s strict limits on new tech’, but that’s not really a plot line as it’s barely featured. Seriously, worse rebellion ever.

One thing I did enjoy was Alaya Dawn Johnson’s depiction of teenagers and sex. Personally, I think this is a sex positive book. Firstly, homosexuality is seen as completely normal: there are several same sex relationships that are so natural that the narration doesn’t even point out that they are same sex. It’s just stated as facts – ‘this is my mother and her new wife, this is my best friend and his boyfriend’. Secondly, there is no slut shaming in this book, and sex is never something that a character is made to feel bad for having. Now I know that some reviewers complained that June described her virginity as a ‘problem’ she had ‘taken care of’ with her best friend, but I have no problem with this. Teenagers have sex for as many different reasons as adults, and some want to lose their virginities as fast as possible. It’s not something I’d personally encourage, but if they want to do it, and they are safe about it, then who I am (or anyone else) to judge?

Anyway, to put it simply, I was bored and unimpressed with The Summer Prince. Pity.

2 stars.

Book Review: Insomnia by J.R. Johansson

Title: Insomnia

Author: J. R. Johansson

Series: The Night Walkers

Rating: 3.5 stars

Review:

(Mild spoilers)

If you thought high school was tiring, trying being Parker Chipp. For the last four years he has not slept. Instead every time he closes his eyes at night he gets pulled into the dreams of the last person he made eye contact with. He’s seen it all:  the chilling nightmares, the boring snippets of everyday life, the random craziness that make no sense. He’s done all he can to search for an answer, but how can he ask for help without people thinking he has lost his mind? He asks his family doctor what happens to someone without sleep, and gets the answer he was expecting. If Parker can’t find a cure soon, he will die.

Then Parker meets Mia, new girl at school and foster sister of Parker’s football coach. In her dreams Parker feels a peace he can barely remember and he can finally, finally, sleep. He starts making excuses to see her, waiting for her after class, ‘accidentally’ bumping into after school, needing to make eye contact with her, knowing that she is the only one who will save his life. But Mia doesn’t understand, she thinks Parker has a crush on her and tries to let him down gently. But she doesn’t understand, Parker needs her. When someone starts sending threatening emails, Mia thinks that Parker is stalking her and begins to have nightmares about him hunting her down. How can Parker stop these threats, and prove that it isn’t him, all whilst still making eye contact with her at the end of every night? And how can he be sure that he isn’t the one making the threats?

Before I began Insomnia I read a couple of reviews comparing this book to Wake by Lisa McMann, which also has the ‘people watching the dreams of other’s’ plot line. From what I can tell, most people who read Wake first feel that the set up for Insomnia was too similar. However, I have yet to read Wake so I was able to enjoy this book without any unconscious comparisons. I was intrigued by the idea of someone being caught in the dreams of another, and felt these scenes were some of the strongest parts of the book. The nightmares of Mia being hunted and beaten by Parker and a woman who is being abused by her husband are both excellently written and pretty terrifying. J. R. Johansson knows how to write horror: the best bit of Insomnia is when Parker discovers he’s been doing things he can’t remember, beginning to feel he can’t trust himself and you realise he has actually been an unreliable narrator. From the start of the book, we are told that Parker’s condition will lead to him losing his mind then dying, and seeing those cracks in his psyche is quite creepy and very gripping.

On the other hand, it’s such a shame that a book pitched as a paranormal thriller becomes just a regular thriller. Despite Parker’s dream watching is such a huge part of the story, it doesn’t really affect the plot – you could take it out and still have the core story (Mia’s stalker and Parker being framed) almost completely unaffected. Also, the first chapter features the dream/memory of the school caretaker killing a woman. It’s a great beginning, captivating and creepy but it’s never mentioned again. Was it just a dream? Did the caretaker actually kill his wife? And if he did, why didn’t Parker try to do anything about it? In fact, the biggest problem about this book is the unanswered questions. Why can Parker watch other people’s dreams? Did his father also have this curse? Is that why he left? Is there a cure to the curse? It’s implied that all these questions will be answered in the next book, as though the main plot is finished, it ends on quite a big cliffhanger about Parker and his curse. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the next book will focus more on the paranormal elements.

3.5 stars.

Book Review: Mistwalker by Saundra Mitchell

Title: Mistwalk

Author: Saundra Mitchell

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

The family lobster boat will always hold a specially place in Willa’s heart – even if she does have to look past the dark stain where her brother was killed. For Willa, the sea is her calling, her home. But what seemed like a life of simple pleasures – marrying her high school boyfriend Seth, taking over the family business, eventually passing it on to her own children – has fallen apart since Levi’s death. The worst part is Willa knows it’s all her fault, as does everyone else even if they admitted out loud. Banned from the boat, soon to lose her best friend to college, at odds with Seth who keeps trying but in all the wrong ways, Willa doesn’t know what to do. As she stares out at the old lighthouse on Jackson Rock, she finds herself thinking of the legends that surround it. Not that she believes it’s really haunted by the Grey Man – until she catches sight  of mist shrouded figure on the rocks…

The Grey Man has been trapped for one hundred years, seduced by a beautiful woman who passed on this curse. Now he must either collect a thousand souls of those who die at sea, or convince someone to take his place. He can feel her out there – the one who is think of him. Now he finally has a chance for freedom: he must seduce Willa, must make her fall so in love with him she would be willing to die for him. And what better way to make her fall in love that to show her an escape from all her problems?

This is a very quiet novel, set in a sleep Maine fishing village where the inhabitants have handed down their livelihood for many generations. The atmosphere is one of the best parts of this book: despite being set in the present day, Mistwalker has a somewhat timeless feel that I love. The writing from Willa’s POV is simple but captivating, in a honest almost raw way, which is nicely balanced with the Grey Man’s POV which is more poetic and slightly unsettling. I enjoyed reading the Grey Man’s side, he was creepy and fixated on Willa and his freedom but whilst his obsession was understandable given his entrapment it is never shown in a positive light. This is a good example of writing that shows sympathy for his predicament but doesn’t excuse creepy behaviour. I also loved the treatment of Willa, a teenage girl who has a simple dream and fights so hard to make it happen – to take over her father’s lobster boat, to marry her boyfriend Seth, and to pass on her family traditions to her own children. It’s nice to read a book that doesn’t push a teenager into making grand plans for their lives, that shows that some (like Willa’s best friend Bailey) will go to college and make big money in a glamorous city, but that not everyone has to ‘making something’ of themselves. No-one looks down on Willa’s dream, not the narrative or the other characters. Willa’s love for the sea is a beautiful thing, and the description might just make you fall in love with the ocean too.

As I said, this is a slow book that starts off just a bit too slowly, and the action doesn’t really pick up till about half way. The novel alternates chapters from both Willa and the Grey Man, but the first half focuses on Willa’s life after her brother’s death and it takes her a while to even think of the Grey Man and his lighthouse, other than mentioning it as a local folktale. This is mixed with the Grey Man insisting that he can feel some is thinking of him, which can be confusing at first. I was ok with it as I tend to re-read the blurb of every book before I start it, but for those who don’t do this it may take some a while to work out what exactly is going on.

I too have a specially place in my heart for the sea, and this novel near perfectly captures that love.

4 stars.

A Brief Intermission

Because life loves me, and the timing is just spot on, I’m afraid my posts will be going up a little slower than I’d planned. I crashed my bike last night whilst swerving to avoid some idiot who wandered out onto the road without looking and broke my wrist (on my right hand too, of course).
If you’ll kindly bear with me, I should have another review up either tonight or tomorrow.
Sorry about the delay!