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: 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: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

12930909Title: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Author: April Genevieve Tuchoke

Series: Between #1

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

(Contains some minor spoilers.)

Violet White spends her days in a dreamy, tranquil haze: reading books in the sun, relaxing on the beach by her home, or exploring the old mansion that has been left to her family since her grandmother died. Sure, her parents have used the last of their family fortune to run off to Europe to pursue their art, leaving her with a brother who can’t seem to stand her and a house that’s slowly falling apart. In fact, money is so tight she’s resorted to renting out the guest house in her back garden. Which leads River West to her door, and into her life. With his charming smile, easy nature, and striking good looks Violet is powerless to resist him.

But something strange is happening in the sleepy town of Echo. Children are in the graveyard at night, hunting the Devil with stakes, Violet’s friend Sunshine sees a monster eating human flesh in a cave in the woods, and the town drunk suddenly slits his throat in the town centre. This horror couldn’t possibly be linked with River, but as mystery surrounds him and his lies build up without him caring whether Violet knows or not, she finds herself doubting him. Is he evil? Does he care? And, to make maters worse, does she care? Violet’s grandmother used to warn her about the Devil, but she never thought she might be holding his hand, sleeping next to him, or kissing him. She knows she should listen to her grandmother’s teaching but she can’t help herself – because despite everything Violet is falling for River.

It’s clear that Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is going to be a book that you will either love or hate. It has elements that will seriously frustrate some readers, like the slower pace, the what some have called ‘insta-love’ romance, or the deceitfulness and arrogance of the character River. Other readers, however, will love it. I am one of the latter. With it’s gothic atmosphere and slower pace which added to the feel of the book, I thoroughly enjoyed it. But that’s not to say it’s without any problems.

What April Genevieve Tuchoke does best is the timeless feel to the town of Echo and Violet’s mansion. The novel uses almost lyrical descriptions and feels like it could be set in almost any decade from the 1930s onwards, with classic movies in the park and comments on art running throughout. This is also used with the character of Violet, who wears her dead grandmother’s clothes and love to read and paint. There is also a strong gothic tone, especially in the scene with the children in the graveyard armed with stakes to fight off the Devil, which was delightfully creepy. This book has also been accused of using the dreaded ‘insta-love’ trope, but I disagree –  there is no ‘insta-love’ in this book. What there is is the intense, unpredictable, and sometimes scary attraction or first love that teenagers often experience at least once. There is no declarations of love, no talk of fate, no promises of being together forever and ever. Violet falls for River, even as she knows it’s a bad idea, because people can’t help who they fall for, especially when you’re a teenager and not only are your hormones going crazy, but you have little to no experience about what love actually is. I believe everyone has fallen for someone who is bad for them at least once, and this book perfectly captures the feeling of fierce passion mixed with helplessness, fear, and slight self loathing.

I only have two reservations with Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Firstly, considering it mentions the Devil in the title, and the official blurb emphasises the idea that River may actually be the Devil, this book had very little religious overtones. The idea of the Devil was barely used at all, the only real mention is with the kids who freak out in the graveyard. I was hoping for a book that looked into the idea of religion and had an actual Christian devil, instead of an ambiguous paranormal creature who is still pretty much a mystery by the end of the book. The other problem was the portray and subtle slut shaming of Violet’s friend Sunshine. Sunshine is a character who embraces her sexuality – she loves flirting with boys, enjoys drawing attention to her body, and choices to act in a way she thinks boys will notice and enjoy. I personally have no problem with this. Women enjoy sex as much as men and should feel no shame in this, however they decide to show this sexuality, and had she been left alone, Sunshine would have been a perfectly fine character. However, compared to the virginal Violet, who’s narrative subtly condemns her attitude by comparing them both, and Sunshine association with Luke, Violet’s brother, who is sexist, messes around with several girls at once and treats Violet like crap, Sunshine is portrayed as a slut. This word is only ever uttered by the villain in this book, but his accusations are never challenged. What’s worse, after the trauma of having her parents being tricked into unknowingly nearly killing her, Sunshine changes – she stops flirting, becomes more serious and begins reading, like Violet. It’s often that people who have a near death experience decide to change their life for the better, but this is just another way of showing that Sunshine was in the wrong and needed to change. The slut shaming in this book is not obvious, and is similar to the problems that are common in real life, so it may have even been unintentional, but it is there and this is a problem.

These problems aside, I am very interested to see where the next book goes, and hope the sequel keeps the amazing writing and ambience.

4 stars.

On a slightly unrelated note, I keep thinking that the title of this book is Between the Devil and the Deep Dark Ocean, I song I really enjoy by a gothic metal band called Nightwish.

Book Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

13449693Title: The Raven Boys

Author: Maggie Stiefvater

Series: The Raven Cycle #1

Rating: 4.5 stars

Review:

On a cold winter night, Blue stands with her mother and watches as the ghosts of the soon-to-be dead cross the graveyard. Not that she expects to see anything – unlike her mother, Blue is not a clairvoyant. But this year she sees a boy, which can only mean two things: “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.” 

His name is Gansey, and he and his friends have already gained a reputation in Aglionby, their private school. Known as The Raven Boys, Blue is sure they are nothing but trouble. Obsessed with finding the burial ground of the Welsh King Glendower, Gansey is following lay lines that could lead to his fortune and convinces Blue to help. As the daughter of a family of psychics, who is Blue to think him crazy? Despite herself Blue is drawn to the Raven Boys, even though she knows it can’t end well: all her life she has been told she will cause her true love to die.

Despite the synopsis, The Raven Boys is not the story of a romance between Blue and Gansey. Though romance is featured in this book, this arc seems to be for the whole series rather than just this story. What The Raven Boys actually is is so much bigger and better: this is no typical YA paranormal romance. It’s been called a cross between Edgar Allan Poe and The Dead Poet’s Society, and is in fact a tale of magic and quests, and the bonds of friendship between a group of young men. The Raven Boys themselves and their relationship plays a major role, and each of the boys work so great together, as well as standing on their own. Though each is noteworthy in their own right – Gansey with his passion for the supernatural, Ronan who hides behind his anger, and Noah who is more than meets the eye – the best character has to be Adam. The boy from a poor family who gained a scholarship to an expensive private school, Adam struggles with both feeling that he is not good enough and resentment towards his other friends who never have to worry about money. The flashback scene where he can’t afford to buy food is just heart-wrenching. Blue is also an awesome character, the only non-seer in a family of clairvoyants, she doesn’t let this bring her down and doesn’t hold this against her family. Her relationship with her mother was encouragingly positive, and her caution and tentative friendship with the boys is a refreshing change in YA books – she is so much more interesting than the stereotypical ‘too-stupid-to-live’ heroine, and her budding romance with Adam was charming. It’s just a disappointment that this romance can’t fully develop, as the synopsis clearly states that the romance will be between Blue and Gansey.

The magic featured in this book was just brilliant. A great mix of ghosts, psychics, tarot cards, lay lines, and more (there really is a bit of everything). The Welsh folktale this is loosely based on (Doomed to Die on St. Marks Eve) and the use of King Glendower is very original, a nice change from the over abundance of Greek and European folklore used in fantasy today. As a huge fan of magic, I found the ideas used to be fascinating and endlessly entertaining, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next. The writing itself was also beautiful, especially one description of an abandoned car in the middle of a woods, and it speaks to Maggie Stiefvater’s skill that she can make something so beautiful out of a simple image.

This was a truly great book, and I cannot to read the sequel.

4.5 stars.

Book Review: Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst

17286817Title: Conjured

Author: Sarah Beth Durst

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

Her name is Eve now – not that she knows what it used to be. In fact, all Eve really knows is what Agent Malcolm has told her: that she’s in a witness protection program and has undergone multiple surgeries to change her appearance, to hide her from a serial killer. She must pretend to be a normal teenager, living a normal life, and hope that her memories return so she can help catch the monster who’s after her.

But it’s hard to know what ‘normal’ is when you can do magic that causes you to black out and have visions of hauntingly creepy carnivals and people with antlers or snake scales. Between the agents of WitSec who keep relentlessly pushing her to remember more, a trio of non-human teens who can also do magic, and an alluring boy who works with her at the library, who can use her magic when they kiss, who can really be believed? Eve must learn who to trust when she can’t even trust herself.

I have only read one other book by Sarah Beth Durst (the beautifully written desert fantasy Vessel), but already she is fast becoming a favourite author. The imagery she uses and the amazing ideas are what has hooked me to these books, and I’m eagerly waiting for more of her work. Though Conjured is a stand alone novel, I would love to see more of this world – or more accurately, worlds – as the brief glimpses of the worlds Eve and Zach jump through towards the end of the book were fascinating, and would have made a great setting for another book. The carnival setting itself was also beautifully done, in a creepy but captivating way, and Eve’s visions of her time with the Magician were easily the best part.

Conjured is a book that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Between Eve having no memories of who she is and what has happened to her, not knowing who to trust with everyone telling her to trust them and not the others, and randomly losing weeks or even months of her life, neither Eve nor the reader has any idea what exactly will happen next. The only downside of this is that some of the best scenes, when the carnival is revealed and we finally meet the Magician himself, are left until right at the end. Also, I wasn’t completely sold on the character of Zach, and thus his romance with Eve. When he’s first introduced, he talks way too much about random knowledge he has, which seems a little to much like showing off, then without warning tells Eve there’s no way they can ever “just be friends” and that he wants to kiss her. Creepy, much? Yet, when Eve meets him again, after she has lost some weeks of her memory, he’s suddenly shy. Though his character improves and becomes more likeable, Zach is just too inconsistent in the beginning and not fully fleshed out, leaving the romance a little bit forced.

Despite this minor hiccup, Conjured is an awesome book that comes highly recommended, and I can only hope for more in this world.

4 stars.

Book Review: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

13636400Title: The Bone Season

Author: Samantha Shannon

Series: The Bone Series #1

Rating: 3.5 stars

Review:

It’s 2059 and London is being run by a security force known as the Scion, whose mission is to hunt out all clairvoyants hiding in the city. Paige Mahoney, a nineteen year old Irish woman, works in the criminal underworld as a dreamwalker. As one of the rarest clairvoyants, Paige is constantly on the look out, as there would be only one sentence if she was captured: death. At least that’s what she always thought, until it actually happens.

Suddenly, Paige finds herself being shipped off to Oxford, a city that has been sealed off for nearly two-hundred years and renamed Sheol I. The city is ruled by a race of unearthly, humanoid creatures called the Rephaim, who view themselves as physically and intellectually superior to mankind. They use voyants as soldiers and servants, and are ruled by a woman called Nashira Sargas. Paige is soon claimed by the blood-consort to Nashira, Arcturus Mesarthim, known as the Warden, who will train her, care for her, and own her completely. Despite being his slave, Paige can’t help but wonder whose side Warden is actually on, but she knows no matter what she is not safe here. Now, Paige must find a way to survive and escape, before her training in fighting monsters who eat human flesh or the attention from Nashira kills her.

The Bone Season is a entertaining book, with a lot of world building and interesting characters. The world created by Samantha Shannon is very detailed, stuffed full of information, almost to the point of becoming slightly overwhelming at the beginning. It starts out with a very heavy info dumping style – the world is described almost completely in the first chapter, and not revisited at all in the rest of the book. This can lead to some confusion, so it is recommended that the begin of this book is read fairly carefully so as to not miss anything. Luckily, once Paige is captured and the action picks up, the info dumping lessens (though doesn’t disappear completely) and you get mostly caught up in the story. I say ‘mostly’, because I felt the book started to lag slightly in the last third. Whilst the story is still moving, there was just something that felt a little bit repetitive and slower that the rest of the book.

All the characters were enjoyable, and though the romance between Paige and Warden was obvious from the beginning, they were both interesting. The slow burn of the romance was the unexpected part, and I think this is part of what caused the lull in the pace, waiting for the romance to fully unfold. However having said that, this is a nice change from most book that focus heavily on romance, and seeing as this is a seven book series it gives the relationship time to develop properly. Warden was one of the most interesting characters as his motives are hidden throughout most of the book and it’s clear why Paige doesn’t trust him for a long while.

Overall, The Bone Season is entertaining and detailed book, that, despite a couple of problems, has captured my interest. I am looking forward to book two.

3.5 stars.

Kindle Daily Deal: Angelfall by Susan Ee

Today’s Kindle Daily Deal on Amazon UK is a book I’ve had my eye on for a while: Angelfall by Susan Ee. It has angels causing an apocalypse and a sixteen year old girl trying to save her sister who was taken by them. It sounds interesting, and for £0.99 I’m giving it a go. Why don’t you too?

 

11500217Description:

It’s been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back.

Anything, including making a deal with an enemy angel.

Raffe is a warrior who lies broken and wingless on the street. After eons of fighting his own battles, he finds himself being rescued from a desperate situation by a half-starved teenage girl.

Traveling through a dark and twisted Northern California, they have only each other to rely on for survival. Together, they journey toward the angels’ stronghold in San Francisco where she’ll risk everything to rescue her sister and he’ll put himself at the mercy of his greatest enemies for the chance to be made whole again.

Locus Magazine, March 2012 Finalist for Cybils Bloggers Award for Best YA Fantasy & Sci-fi Book of the Year 2011

Book Review: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

10805588Title: The Name of the Star

Author: Maureen Johnson

Series: Shades of London #1

Rating: 4 stars

Cover Comments: Very pretty, I like the watercolour effect. Though the butterfly is a little out of place.

Review:

The mystery of Jack the Ripper is one that has fascinated the world since the anonymous murders occurred in 1888. Who was this serial killer? How did he evade capture? And what drove him to such brutal actions in the first place? Part of the terror (or some might say allure) comes from this lack of knowledge, which has stood the test of time among scholars and creatives alike. This is why when teenager Rory moves from Louisiana to Wexford, a London boarding school, only to find the work of a copycat killing has happened right on her new doorstep, she is in far more danger that she could realise. Especially since she’s the only one to see the suspect – but that’s not all she can see – after nearly choking to death Rory can see ghosts. Now a secret organisation of ghost hunters known as The Shades need her help to stop the killings, as the new Ripper may be more that he appears.

Ultimately, The Name of the Star is an enjoyable book. Rory is an interesting and funny character, whose inner musings, (—), as she compares and copes with life between America and England make her not only likeable, but relatable. As a British person living in London, reading Rory’s thoughts were quite amusing and just show that what one person considers normal can be new and strange for another. I was also grateful that neither nationality was stereotyped or overly mocked – whilst there was a gentle poking at both English and American culture, it all seemed in good nature.

As for the plot, the idea of ghost-busting police is engaging and original, not to mention fun (they are sometimes known as “Scotland Graveyard”). The reveal of Rory’s new ability marks a distinct change in the tone of the book, from contemporary to paranormal. Seeing ghosts changes her life quite dramatically, which is reflected in the narrative, bring the Ripper into the spotlight. As for the Ripper himself, he is convincingly creepy and dangerous, which builds up tension between the murder dates and increases the pressure on the Shades to stop him.

For a book about ghosts, I would have liked to have seen a few more. I was also intrigued by the use of an abandoned Underground station, which was a clever metaphor for the ghosts themselves – hidden in plain sight, known only by those who know where to look – but again, I wish there had been more development around this topic. I was also slightly annoyed about the almost cliffhanger ending; it was abrupt and jarred with the narrative pace of the rest of the novel.

Luckily, the next volume was available to me as soon as I finished, so I just set this one down and moved on to the next one.

4 stars