Posts Tagged: 4 stars

The Elemental Trilogy
by Sherry Thomas

September 26, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0


★ ★ ★ ★

The Burning Sky, The Perilous Sea, and The Immortal Heights by Sherry Thomas | Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins | 2013 -2015 | Hardcover $17.99

Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she’s been told. The one prophesied for years to be the savior of The Realm. It is her duty and destiny to face and defeat the Bane, the most powerful tyrant and mage the world has ever known. This would be a suicide task for anyone, let alone a reluctant sixteen-year-old girl with no training.

Guided by his mother’s visions and committed to avenging his family, Prince Titus has sworn to protect Iolanthe even as he prepares her for their battle with the Bane. But he makes the terrifying mistake of falling in love with the girl who should have been only a means to an end. Now, with the servants of the tyrant closing in, Titus must choose between his mission — and her life.

This review is based on an e-ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss …. 

I’m so happy to be able to share my thoughts about this series with you!

You see, last year I was lucky enough part of a library association book list group and we received many titles for consideration. Several of these books were just fantastic — but I couldn’t tell you about them! The rules of the committee included a prohibition against sharing any opinions of eligible books and details of deliberations online. Which is fine and normal for that sort of thing. But I did feel a little bit of regret about not being able to share some of the more awesome books with y’all.

Anyway, I’m no longer on that committee (my job changed, which disqualified me from further participation). Which means that gag order no longer applies… which means I can talk about this fantastic series!

– – –

First of all, I’m a sucker for fast-paced high fantasy featuring independent leading ladies with a quick wit. Throw in some fairy tale retellings and a Victorian era boys’ boarding school, and I am all over this like my dumb dog on a cat that clearly doesn’t want to be friends with him white on rice.

I’m also OK with a bit of romance, so long as it isn’t insta-love or abusive or pointlessly objectifying — and the romance in this series is just fine. But even though Sherry Thomas is known for her adult romance books, this series isn’t too heavy on the lovey-dovey stuff. It’s done well, but it isn’t obtrusive.

– – –

My main criticism is that there is way too much deus ex machina  going on here.

Need to get out of the city but all the normal magical transportation options are closed to you? Luckily your trusty sidekick just happened to set up a private exit that will work for you and all your friends! Need to make yet another a getaway and your only option is a boat? It’s so convenient that you spent all those years practicing sailing, even though you never bothered to mention it before now! And now your enemies have somehow figured out where you’re hiding again? Turns out your ancient artifact has a connected artifact that they can use to track you (which you apparently knew about but it didn’t matter until the third book)! (Although I guess that last one would be a diabolus ex machina instead.)

The thing is, there’s quite a lot of foreshadowing an set-up that went into this plot, too, so that I frequently had those , “Oh! I should have guessed that! Very clever!” feelings that I find so enjoyable when reading. So it’s just frustrating when something randomly comes up or a character just happens to know something out of the blue with no indication of its existence previously… well, maybe this is just a pet peeve of mine.

– – –

The final book in the trilogy, The Immortal Heights, is coming out in October (which is why I’m doing this review now). It’s kind of hard to talk about the final book of a series while avoiding spoilers for the first two, but I’ll try.

The first two books are all about setting the stage for the final great act of rebellion against Atlantis. In the final book, that’s what we get — the culmination of all the efforts of our heroes. All the blood, sweat, and tears that have been shed in this story so far have been leading up to this. And there will be more blood, etc. shed before it’s over.

Let me again emphasize the clever foreshadowing and the well-developed relationships, because those things become SUPER AWESOME in this last book. Like, Sherry Thomas was definitely not just phoning it in on this last installment.

– – –

The Elemental Trilogy is just a good, solid teen epic fantasy story. It could easily have tipped over into a boring mess of trope soup, but I think the author’s previous experience with adult romance novels ensured that it didn’t get too bogged down and the characters stayed interesting throughout the three books.

Highly recommended for fans of Tamora Pierce, Rae Carson, Laini Taylor, Leigh Bardugo, Sarah J. Maas, etc.


Publication information:
Thomas, Sherry. The Burning Sky. New York: Blazer + Bray, 2013. Print.
Thomas, Sherry. The Perilous Sea. New York: Blazer + Bray, 2014. Print.
Thomas, Sherry. The Immortal Heights. New York: Blazer + Bray, 2015. EPUB.

Publisher (The Burning Sky, print)
Public library (The Perilous Sea, print)
Publisher (The Immortal Heights, e-book via Edelweiss)

I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

Walk on Earth a Stranger
by Rae Carson

September 8, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0


★ ★ ★ ★

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson | September 2015 | Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins | Hardcover $17.99

Lee Westfall has a strong, loving family. She has a home she loves and a loyal steed. She has a best friend—who might want to be something more. She also has a secret. Lee can sense gold in the world around her. Veins deep in the earth. Small nuggets in a stream. Even gold dust caught underneath a fingernail. She has kept her family safe and able to buy provisions, even through the harshest winters. But what would someone do to control a girl with that kind of power? A person might murder for it.

This review is based on an e-galley provided by the publisher via Edelweiss. The book is due to be released September 22, 2015.

I was really super excited to get a chance to read this new title from the author of the Girl of Fire & Thorns series, which I liked very much.

The first part of the book reminded me strongly of Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee, simply because of the setting and the “girl escapes scary old dude by dressing as a boy and running west with the help of an escaped slave” plot. In fact, if you liked Under a Painted Sky, I can guarantee you’d like Walk on Earth a Stranger too. But it’s not a copycat story – many elements are similar, but I didn’t feel any sense of “I’ve read this story before…” either.

Carson did a great job with the whole atmosphere. The places described, the mannerisms and actions of the characters, even the thought patterns of the narrator feel like they really do fit in with the pre-Civil War rural South/West setting, without being too jolting or confusing for the modern reader. This is something I’ve come to admire in the best historical fiction.


American Progress, or Manifest Destiny, by George Crofutt, 1873
From the American Memory: American Women Collection of the Library of Congress


The magic element – Leah’s ability to sense gold – is important to the story but not the entire focus of it. She has this interesting ability that can help her find wealth, but it also puts her in danger from people who want to take advantage of her or people who think she’s some kind of witch. Other than that, though, she’s really just a very tough young woman who has to do the best she can to survive. She’s not a magical girl who can wave a wand and poof out of trouble; she has to face down that trouble as best she can, usually by herself with only her own wits and shooting skills to save her. I like that.

Leah is not perfect. She a teenager who is still learning about morality, still figuring out her feelings for other people and trying to decide how to act on them. I enjoyed reading about her adventures through her point of view precisely because she’s not perfect and her mistakes and flaws make her story interesting.

I was not particularly interested in the romance, at least at first. Was it really necessary to have Leah crushing on her best-friend-who-happens-to-be-a-guy? And was it really necessary to add a silly little love triangle on top of that? But in the end it didn’t really turn into the big ball o’ cliché that I feared. [Spoiler alert: I found the Reverend’s misguided marriage proposal scene terribly funny.]

From a genealogist’s point of view, this story was interesting because of its focus on the very real, very dramatic California Gold Rush. The long period of westward migrations in America in the 1800’s resulted in some pretty interesting little mysteries for many modern-day family historians. For example, I’m sure the fictional Joyners’ great-great-great-great-grandchildren would now be wondering what exactly happened to this branch of their family on their journey to the West Coast, with only census, land, and probate records to help them piece the story together.

I’m curious as to the nature of the planned sequels. The last chapter is open-ended enough that there could be one, but satisfyingly final enough that the book can stand on its own.


Publication information: Carson, Rae. Walk on Earth a Stranger. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2015. EPUB.
Source: Electronic format review copy provided by publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

Reason for Hope
by Jane Goodall

May 26, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0


★ ★ ★ ★

Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey by Jane Goodall and Phillip Berman | September 1999 | Warner Books | Hardcover $32.00

Her revolutionary studies of Tanzania’s chimpanzees forever altered our definition of humanity. Now, intriguing as always, Jane Goodall explores her deepest convictions in a heartfelt memoir that takes her from the London Blitz to Louis Leaky’s famous excavations in Africa and then into the forests of Gombe. From the unforgettable moment when a wild chimpanzee gently grasps her hand to the terror of a hostage-taking and the sorrow of her husband’s death. Here, thoughtfully exploring the challenges of both science and the soul, she offers an inspiring, optimistic message as profound as the knowledge she brought back from the forests, and that gives us all… reason for hope.

This book was quite lovely. I’d recommend it to anyone who is interested in a contrast to the ultra-logical atheism of scientists like Richard Dawkins.

In this memoir, Jane Goodall describes the events in her life that led her current spiritual beliefs: her childhood in England during WWII, her adventures with the chimpanzees and scientists in Africa, the birth of her beloved son, and the deaths of people she loved deeply. Goodall has lived a simply incredible life and she has a way of writing that makes the reader feel as though she’s engaging in a personal conversation, not just telling a story.

It was fascinating to read about the religious philosophy and spiritual experiences of this intelligent, humanitarian, admirable woman. I believe that we should never stop learning and searching for truth, and I think both science and theology can be valid ways of pursuing personal growth. I also worry that scientists who do profess a faith in any particular religion or even just a higher being or planes of existence don’t often speak up for fear of being accused of irrationality, so it’s refreshing to read about the intimate, carefully considered faith of a highly respected biologist. I don’t particularly feel the need to detail my own beliefs here, but I did identify heavily with some of Goodall’s personal experiences and conclusions.

The book isn’t just about spirituality, or one person’s religiously significant experiences though. Goodall spends the last portion of the book on the topic of humanity’s future, of our place in the world and what we can do to reduce the suffering of other species as well as our own. She also shares some of her own poetry throughout the book, which I thought was nice enough — but I know next to nothing about poetry.

That said, I found myself drawn more to the stories about her time spent among the chimpanzees of the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania. I started reading her book on the subject, In the Shadow of Man, ages ago… and I can’t for the life of me remember why I put it down, as I really remember nothing but good feelings and enjoyment of it. I think I may need to pick it up again!


Publication information: Goodall, Jane. Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey. New York: Warner Books, 1999. Print.
Source: Personal purchase or gift, provenance unknown.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

The Devil You Know
by Trish Doller

May 20, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0


★ ★ ★ ★

The Devil You Know by Trish Doller | June 2015 | Bloomsbury| $17.99

This review is based on a print ARC.

Eighteen-year-old Arcadia wants adventure. Living in a tiny Florida town with her dad and four-year-old brother, Cadie spends most of her time working, going to school, and taking care of her family. So when she meets two handsome cousins at a campfire party, she finally has a chance for fun. They invite her and friend to join them on a road trip, and it’s just the risk she’s been craving-the opportunity to escape. But what starts out as a fun, sexy journey quickly becomes dangerous when she discovers that one of them is not at all who he claims to be.

I did not expect to rate this book so highly.

Books that open with teenagers drinking booze, fantasizing about sex, or pining after their ex-boyfriends tend not to hold my attention for very long.

(Please note that I’m not saying that books shouldn’t include those things or that real teens don’t do those them. I’m just not interested in reading about it.)

But there’s always an exception to the rule, isn’t there? The Devil You Know is that exception in this case.

The main character, Cadie, really grew on me. She’s not perfect — she’s a very believable teen, complete with questionable relationship choices and impulse control problems, but she’s also not afraid to stand up for herself, be thoughtful, and take care of business when she needs to. There were several points in the book when she did or said something that made me think, “That’s RIGHT girl, you tell him like it is!”

The way the suspense is built up is perfect. The book starts out very much like any contemporary YA novel: teen gets bored, teen rebels just a little bit, teen’s rebellion takes an unexpected turn. But as Cadie’s adventure continues and the weird occurrences start to build up, the reader can’t help but want to shake her by the shoulders and shout for her to watch her back! Even though I’d easily guessed who the bad guy was well before the end, I stayed up until 1 am to finish because I just couldn’t handle the suspense, haha.

The whole Florida atmosphere and the feel of small Southern town life is spot-on. Of course, the author now lives in Florida (according to her website), so I guess that’s to be expected.

Also, I don’t want to be too spoilery so I feel like I can’t write too much about what goes down in this book. But I would have appreciated someone reassuring me of this: Yes, the dog lives!

The official release date for The Devil You Know is June 2nd, so if you feel like preordering it or making a purchase request at your library now is the time!


Publication information: Doller, Trish. The Devil You Know. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015. Print.
Source: ARC provided via giveaway managed by Lisa Schroeder.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures
by Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater

May 15, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0


★ ★ ★ ★

Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures by Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater | April 2015 | Scholastic Press | Hardcover $16.99

Pip is a girl who can talk to magical creatures. Her aunt is a vet for magical creatures. And her new friend Tomas is allergic to most magical creatures. When things go amok—and they often go amok—Pip consults Jeffrey Higgleston’s Guide to Magical Creatures, a reference work that Pip finds herself constantly amending. Because dealing with magical creatures like unicorns, griffins, and fuzzles doesn’t just require book knowledge — it requires hands-on experience and thinking on your feet.

This was so cute and fun! I’m so glad I got a chance to read it. Special thanks to my coworker who brought this back from TLA to share!

Here’s the premise: This world is very much like ours, except populated with various magical creatures that people can (sometimes) keep as pets. You know, unicorns and the like. Young Pip has a secret: she can talk to them and understand them! Unfortunately, this special ability has gotten her into a little bit of trouble.

I was totally charmed by Pip and her little friend, Tomas, who happens to be allergic to just about everything (the poor dear). One of the things I like about these characters is that they’re fairly quiet, unassuming kids — not that there’s anything wrong with boisterous, confident main characters, not at all, it’s just that sometimes it is nice to see the “background nerd” types get their own adventures. I personally relate to them a little more, anyway.

A big part of the fun of this book is the detail the authors put into all the various types of magical creatures that come up. We get to meet a HobGrackle, a Miniature Silky Griffin, the adorably terrible Tribble-like Fuzzles, and even a… well, I won’t spoil the ending for you, haha.

One of the other really fantastic things about this book is that one of the authors, Maggie Stiefvater, did all of the illustrations for it. (Authors don’t always get to illustrate their own books, so that’s kind of a big deal.) Stiefvater is the sort of person who paints designs on walls in her own house and makes custom tarot cards to go with her YA book series — she’s as much of an artist as she is an author.

By the way, it was a lot of fun watching these two authors go on tour together for this book via social media like Twitter and Tumblr. I wish I’d gotten a chance to see them in person!


Publication information: Pearce, Jackson and Maggie Stiefvater. Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures. New York: Scholastic Press, 2015. Print.
Source: ARC from the Texas Library Association conference.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science – and the World
by Rachel Swaby

May 6, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0


★ ★ ★ ★

Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science — and the World by Rachel Swaby | April 2015 | Broadway Books, an imprint of Crown Publishing | Paperback $16.00

In 2013, the New York Times published an obituary for Yvonne Brill. It began: “She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job, and took eight years off from work to raise three children.” It wasn’t until the second paragraph that readers discovered why the Times had devoted several hundred words to her life: Brill was a brilliant rocket scientist who invented a propulsion system to keep communications satellites in orbit, and had recently been awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Among the questions the obituary—and consequent outcry—prompted were, Who are the role models for today’s female scientists, and where can we find the stories that cast them in their true light?

This review is based on a print uncorrected proof copy, which I won in a Goodreads giveaway. That’s part of why it took me so long to get to — I was waiting on the preferred physical version. I also had access to an e-ARC via NetGalley.

Headstrong is a lovely little collection of profiles of lady scientists who probably don’t get enough credit for their contributions to our world. The first paragraph of the introduction explains the author’s motivation quite well, I think:

‘This book about scientists began with Beef Stroganoff. According to the New York Times, Yvonne Brill made a mean one. In an obituary in March 2013, Brill was honored with the title of “world’s best mom” because she “followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children.” Only after a loud, public outrcy did the Times amend the article so it would begin with the contribution that earned Brill a featured spot in the paper of record in the first place: “She was a brilliant rocket scientist.” Oh, right. That.’

I remember when this happened, and I remember being so frustrated… but not so surprised. Women have been involved in the sciences for a very long time, but the various disciplines still often operate like good ol’ boys’ clubs (though obviously circumstances vary from place to place and from field to field).

This book is a little shorter than I’d hoped for. It’s more like a mini-buffet of biographies than a full feast of them, but that’s OK because it makes for perfect lunchtime reading. I’m sure it is difficult to do such interesting people complete justice in just a few pages each, but Swaby did a fine job and there were several scientists that I really want to learn more about now!

Every included scientist is treated with respect and honesty, which I wish could be the case for women in the sciences in every other situation. If I could, I would put a copy of this in the hands of every AP science high school student or pre-med freshman. More young people — young women and men, especially those who intend to make a career in any scientific field — need to know about these all-too-frequently forgotten scientists.


Publication information: Swaby, Rachel. Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science — and the World. New York: Broadway Books, 2015. Print.
Source: ARC from publisher via Goodreads giveaway.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

A Year in Provence
by Peter Mayle

March 1, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0


★ ★ ★ ★

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle | Vintage Books, a division of Random House | May 1991, originally published 1989 | Paperback $10.00

In this witty and warm-hearted account, Peter Mayle tells what it is like to realize a long-cherished dream and actually move into a 200-year-old stone farmhouse in the remote country of the Lubéron with his wife and two large dogs. He endures January’s frosty mistral as it comes howling down the Rhône Valley, discovers the secrets of goat racing through the middle of town, and delights in the glorious regional cuisine. A Year in Provence transports us into all the earthy pleasures of Provençal life and lets us live vicariously at a tempo governed by seasons, not by days.

Peter Mayle is well-known for his series of books on the life of a British ex-pat in Provence (a region in southeastern France). I got a small set of these books a few years ago from a local library’s used book sale.

I’d been meaning to try them out for a while, as I’m admittedly something of a freshman Francophile. I know just enough French to be able to guess at the offerings on a menu or do an impressive job of mispronouncing things. I had the good fortune to be able to go to Paris about a decade ago, too, and that amazing experience is one of my most treasured memories.

My generally rosy view of all things français must obviously color my perception of this first book in Mayle’s Provence series. Reading it was something like enjoying a particularly luxurious meal, set in 12 courses (a chapter for each month of the year). The beauty of this arrangement of short “slice-of-life” stories is that I could easily read this book in short sittings, just before bed or while waiting in line or during a rushed lunch break.

Actually, I had to stop reading it at lunch because the only thing more depressing than eating a microwave meal in an office break room is eating a microwave meal in an office break room while reading about someone halfway around the world having a perfect feast in their perfect courtyard in perfect weather (with perfect wine). There is A LOT of food and drink in this book. Most of the stories involve food or wine in some way, even if they aren’t specifically about food or wine. I’m really looking forward to reading Mayle’s food-focused French Lessons (on my Foodies Read list this year).


Publication information:
Mayle, Peter. A Year in Provence. New York: Vintage Books, 1991. Print.
Source: Public library used book sale.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

Galileo’s Middle Finger
by Alice Dreger

February 16, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science by Alice Dreger | Penguin Press | March 2015 | Hardcover $27.95

Galileo’s Middle Finger is one American’s eye-opening story of life in the trenches of scientific controversy. For two decades, historian Alice Dreger has led a life of extraordinary engagement, combining activist service to victims of unethical medical research with defense of scientists whose work has outraged identity politics activists. With spirit and wit, Dreger offers in Galileo’s Middle Finger an unforgettable vision of the importance of rigorous truth seeking in today’s America, where both the free press and free scholarly inquiry struggle under dire economic and political threats.

I managed to get my grubby paws on an e-ARC from Edelweiss for early review.

This book grabbed me from page 1. This partly had to do with the fact that I started reading it not long after the Disneyland measles outbreak brought the anti-vaccines controversy to the front page of every science news website in the country. I was already in a fine lather over that and the timing for reading this book was basically perfect for me.

First, I want to share a few quotes from the 1st chapter just to give you an idea of the tone of this book….

On introducing the topic of intersex and transgender conditions:

“Human sex comes in two big themes — male and female — but nature seems to enjoy composing variations on those themes.”

On choosing where to conduct research while working on her PhD:

“Britain and France also made practical sense because they would be nice places to go on dissertation grants.”

On the topic of her dissertation, historical medical treatment of hermaphrodites:

“Late-nineteenth-century medical and scientific men had little interest in changing social mores just because nature was turning out to be a bit churlish where sex was concerned.”

I could keep going because the book is basically full of this sort of thing, but any more than this teaser is probably a copyright violation of some sort. Also, keep in mind that these quotes are not from the final copy, which is scheduled to hit the shelves on March 10, 2015.

What we have here is a very conversational and accessible book about science and its fraught but extremely important relationship with various social justice fights. (It’s tempting to use the phrase It’s about ethics in science journalism but at this point saying anything is about ethics in ___ journalism makes me want to barf a little bit. Thanks, hashtag gamergate! The overuse of the suffix –gate makes me want to barf a little bit, too, but now this review has gone completely off the rails. Now, where was I… ?)

This book has been favorably reviewed by Kirkus, Dan Savage, and Jared Diamond, which I think says a lot about its quality and potential impact in the science nonfiction market.

Dreger touches on topics like intersexuality, sociobiology, and fetal drug therapy. We get a little bit of history of the treatment of these issues by both the scientific community and the culture at large, but this isn’t really a science history book. Dreger gets personal. She writes mainly about her own experiences with dealing with controversial scientific opinions, but she also includes quite a lot of info on other scientists’ and social activists’ experiences too. She writes about what happens when attempts to pursue scientific truth butt up against efforts to achieve cultural acceptance or legal justice, and about what happens when people on both sides of a volatile issue behave unethically in pursuit of their goals.

I rather enjoyed this book, though it probably wasn’t great for my blood pressure. (“She tried to claim WHAT!?” “He seriously said THAT?!”) The only big caveat I’d give a potential reader is that the bulk of the book really does revolve around the author’s own experiences — and she really did get down into the trenches. There are some passages that feel very “he-said/she-said” and, speaking as someone who is not an expert in any of the fields or controversies discussed in this book, I’m not comfortable making absolute judgments based only on those sorts of arguments… but I have to admit that Dreger is thorough and persuasive.

This is not an unbiased, entirely 3rd person academic-flavor book, and you won’t enjoy it if you’re expecting to read it that way. Dreger has a particularly Galilean personality — and, in fact, she does compare herself and many of her colleagues to Galileo several times. She uses the phrase “politcally tone-dumb” — that is, not exactly oblivious to the effect that controversial science will have on politicized efforts to achieve social justice, but more like not bothering to care about it overmuch because pursuit of actual truth is more important.

Anyway, the message is ultimately a warning, but a hopeful one: Truth and justice are inextricably linked, and only by working together can scholars and activists achieve both.


Publication information: Dreger, Alice. Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science. New York: Penguin, 2015. EPUB.
Source: This review is based on an e-ARC that I received from the publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

The Diviners
by Libba Bray

February 9, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0

★ ★ ★ ★
The Diviners by Libba Bray | Little, Brown and Company | September 2012 | Paperback $11.00

Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City — and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.

Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.

As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened.

Here’s a solid book for YA readers who like their paranormal stories with an historical twist (or historical fiction fans who might like a bit of paranormal flavor).

I’ve been meaning to read this since it came out, and I even picked up a copy last spring, but I just never got around to it. That’s why it ended up on my TBR Pile Challenge list this year. It’s great timing, because the sequel (Lair of Dreams) is set to come out this summer. I’ll probably pick it up.

First, the positive: The beautifully historical worldbuilding is great, and I do tend to swoon over that sort of thing. You can’t help but feel sucked right into 1920’s New York. It has a diverse cast of memorable characters. Except for the very beginning and the very end, there was rarely a slow moment, plot-wise. Also, I felt a real sense of suspense and horror several times (especially while trying to read this at bedtime, when the house was quiet and dark and a little bit spooky). All of these things combined to bring my rating for this book up to 4 stars.

Now let’s talk about the little things that I think could have been better. I actually did start reading this book several months ago, but I ended up putting it down because it wasn’t keeping my attention at first. It does get off to kind of a slow start. The characters solve their big mystery around page 400 and then it takes them about 140 more pages to resolve their major plotline, but then there’s still another 50 or so pages of set-up for the next book… it’s a bit long for a YA book, in my opinion (and I’m not one to be afraid of a chunkster). And quite a lot of that page space is taken up by atmospheric and historical stuff. I know, I know, I just said that I loved the detailed setting, and I do, it’s just that after a while I started to think, OK, I get it, we’re in the 1920’s, we can move along now… and honestly, some of the lingo was terribly overused and it got distracting.

All in all, I’m glad I finally read it and I’m glad I got a chance to briefly meet Libba Bray last year. I definitely have high hopes for Lair of Dreams.


Publication information: Bray, Libba. The Diviners. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2012. Print.
Source: Purchased at the Texas Library Association conference, 2013.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

by Leonard Pitts, Jr.

February 1, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0



Freeman by Leonard Pitts, Jr. | May 2012 | Agate Bolden | Paperback $16.00

Freeman, the new novel by Leonard Pitts, Jr., takes place in the first few months following the Confederate surrender and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Upon learning of Lee’s surrender, Sam — a runaway slave who once worked for the Union Army — decides to leave his safe haven in Philadelphia and set out on foot to return to the war-torn South. What compels him on this almost-suicidal course is the desire to find his wife, the mother of his only child, whom he and their son left behind 15 years earlier on the Mississippi farm to which they all “belonged”.

Freeman is an historical fiction novel, though a great many aspects of its settings and the events in the characters’ lives are not nearly as fictional as I’d wish them to be. The story follows 3 people — a free black man, his still-enslaved wife, and an idealistic Yankee schoolmarm — immediately following the conclusion of the American Civil War.

I actually read this book for Galveston Reads, a yearly community-wide “book club” sort of program organized by the local public library. They give out a limited number of free copies to anyone who wants to join, and they have a series of book-related events over the year. Freeman was specially chosen this year to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth (the official announcement of emancipation in Texas following the Civil War on June 19th).

This is an intense, highly emotional story. And how can it not be? The subject matter is incredibly difficult and the events leading up to, during, and after the Civil War had a huge – huge, huge, huge – impact on our country. Of course most Americans are aware of this, but if you’re outside the U.S. you may not know that some parts of our nation are still struggling with the effects of slavery and the war that ended it.

It’s a complex story, too, and I really appreciated the way that the author handled the white Southerners’ reactions and motivations. It makes me uncomfortable to admit this, but it necessarily affects the way I read this book and others like it: I am a product of Southern white privilege and all the unfortunate history that goes along with that. The residents of the town that refused to consider the needs of the former slaves in their midst could have been my ancestors. The violence done toward people who only hoped to attain basic human dignity is terrifying to the point of being unimaginable – but it doesn’t matter if it is hard to imagine, because it happened whether or not we’re comfortable with that truth.

I won’t go into too much detail about the plot, except to warn sensitive readers that there really are some disturbing occurrences, including rape, physical and psychological abuse, and murder. Pitts doesn’t sugar coat a thing. But for all that, the story is ultimately a hopeful one. Despite everything and everyone standing in their way, the 3 main characters do their damndest to pursue their goals.

Freeman is not without problems, of course. It starts slow. Occasionally the POV shifted within sections, so that in one paragraph we’d be getting a scene from Prudence’s eyes but in the next we’d be learning how Bonnie felt about the situation. It was a little distracting. I was also a little irritated by the way the “educated” characters wouldn’t use contractions at all. I understand that this was a stylistic choice to provide a contrast between the way they spoke and the way uneducated or poor people (black and white) spoke, but it made some bits of dialogue sound stilted and unrealistic.

Overall, I’m glad I got a chance to read this and to hear the author speak at a local event.


Publication information: Pitts, Jr., Leonard. Freeman. Chicago: Agate Bolden, 2012. Print.
Source: Public library.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.