Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray

After a supernatural showdown with a serial killer, Evie O’Neill has outed herself as a Diviner. With her uncanny ability to read people’s secrets, she’s become a media darling, and earned the title “America’s Sweetheart Seer.” Everyone’s in love with the city’s newest It Girl…everyone except the other Diviners.

Piano-playing Henry Dubois and Chinatown resident Ling Chan are two Diviners struggling to keep their powers a secret–for they can walk in dreams. And while Evie is living the high life, victims of a mysterious sleeping sickness are turning up across New York City.

As Henry searches for a lost love and Ling strives to succeed in a world that shuns her, a malevolent force infects their dreams. And at the edges of it all lurks a man in a stovepipe hat who has plans that extend farther than anyone can guess….As the sickness spreads, can the Diviners descend into the dreamworld to save the city?

Libba Bray’s follow-up to The Diviners saw many improvements – and one major disappointment. I cracked the spine hoping for more about the other characters in Libba’s ensemble, and I definitely was not disappointed! We learned so much about the backstories for Henry and Sam, which was welcomed… but I missed Theta and Memphis. One of my major complaints about The Diviners was that Evie wasn’t a particularly likable character, and she sunk even further this time around. I found myself hating every moment that Evie was on the page and wondering how much longer it would be until someone else showed up.

The book is long, starts a bit slow, and, dare I say it, a bit too Henry-focused, but it is well worth the ride. Henry really grew on me as the book continued, and I found myself thankful for Libba’s portrayal of such a unique gay character who wasn’t a stereotype or a caricature. As Henry walks in dreams to find his lost love, Louis, we learn so much about his past and the path that has brought him to New York.

The villain of this book didn’t give me the same chills and creeps that Naughty John did in the first book but instead provides more of a psychological horror. I felt leagues of dread for the characters, which kept me hanging on to every word as each piece began to fit together. This puzzle feels a bit disjointed at the beginning, but as we collect more and more information and the picture starts to come together, you realize what you’re seeing is an emotional gut punch. Make sure that you’re prepared.

One of my favorite things about this book was Libba’s attention to realistic diversity. She isn’t afraid to discuss the KKK, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the general hatred faced by interracial relationships. Diversity for Lair of Dreams doesn’t feel tacked on – it is an integral part of the story.

There’s really not much that I can say here without giving the story away – and trust me, you will want to experience this one’s twists and turns for yourself. This one is well worth it!

The third book in the four-part series comes out next week, and I can’t wait! Libba is a master of cliff hangers, and I’m dying to know what happens next.

4/5 Bards

 

The Diviners by Libba Bray

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.

 

 

Libba Bray’s The Diviners is the first in a four-book series. The third book, Before the Devil Breaks You, has an expected publishing date of October 3, 2017. I read The Diviners back when it first came out in 2012, but grad school and my dissertation got in the way when book two came out and I never got around to it. Libba is one of my favorite authors, so in order to prepare for Before the Devil Breaks You, I decided to re-read book one, read book two, and then review them both here before it’s time for book three!

In case you’re wondering, this is a pretty spoiler-free review. I’m confident that nothing I say here will ruin any aspect of the story for you.

The book starts off quickly; a Ouija board, a spirit named Naughty John, and more chills and goose bumps than you can shake a stick at.

… Naughty John, Naughty John, does his work with his apron on…

… Cuts your throat and takes your bones, sells ‘em off for a coupla stones…

I did mention chills, didn’t I? This book gave me the heebie jeebies. I can quite honestly say that I have never felt this sort of dread from a book before. I enjoy horror, I’ve read far and wide in the horror genre, but for some reason, the creep factor just worked for me here. In fact, embarrassingly enough, I was a bit nervous to step outside of my bedroom and into my house one morning, as it was still dark and I had just finished a particularly harrowing plot point.

There are many moving parts within this book – different characters, each with their own lives, different murder scenes (and their delightfully macabre murder descriptions), and many asides from other characters that we only meet once. It’s honestly a lot to juggle, and the shifting point of view can make you go back to re-read something that you had already gone over once.

This time around, as it was my second time with The Diviners, I listened to the audio book. January LaVoy is an incredible narrator, and she had incredibly distinct voices for each character, which made the point of view switching much easier to take.

Another thing that I loved about the book was the 1920s lingo that Libba generously peppered throughout the prose. It is apparent that she did quite a bit of research in order to make the characters fit the time period. I can’t say enough about this – I’ve been using 1920s slang myself in the past week just because it has been so fun to listen to Evie, Theta, and Mabel.

One thing that felt missing from The Diviners that was present in the Gemma Doyle trilogy was how relatable the characters are. In the Gemma Doyle trilogy, I legitimately felt like Gemma, Anne, Felicity, and Pippa were my friends. I once found myself holding up a dress at Ross and thinking, “Man, Fee would love this,” before realizing just how nerdy I had become to think about her as a real character. The characters in The Diviners aren’t up to that level yet – though there is certainly time for them to grow on me more. Part of this could be because there are simply so many characters in Libba’s world – she spent time developing so many across the book but didn’t quite develop enough depth for my liking.

Moving into Lair of Dreams, which is the second book, I really hope that we get to know these characters more. Specifically, I am itching to learn more about Theta and Memphis. I worry about Evie getting on my nerves, as she was starting to grate on them a bit toward the end of Diviners.

Stay tuned for my review of Lair of Dreams, where I’ll fill you in on where these desires led me.

Rating: 3.5 / 5 Bards

A Court of Wings and Ruin Review by Sarah J. Maas

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s maneuverings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit—and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well. As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords—and hunt for allies in unexpected places

 

 

 

A Court of Wings and Ruin is Sarah J. Maas’s third foray into Prythian, the continent upon which the ACOTAR series takes place. The first two books in the series (A Court of Thorns and Roses and A Court of Mist and Fury) were both engaging reads for me, and I counted down the days for ACOWAR to be released so that I could see what happens next to my favorite literary couple. I read through the book twice because there was just so much to take in, and I also wanted to make sure that my feelings were validated a second time around.

 

From here on out, there will be major spoilers. I highly suggest that you do not read ahead unless you are prepared.

The Good

I really enjoyed getting to see more of Prythian and being introduced to the other High Lords. I was happy to see Tarquin again, and I loved Helion. I felt that all of these new characters each had their own depth, and I wanted more. Maas says that other ACOTAR books will be released which focus on characters other than Rhys and Feyre, and I find myself holding my breath in hopes that we will get to see more about the courts outside of Spring and Night.

I adore how Maas handled Tamlin’s character. I love to hate Tam, and I relished seeing his court ripped apart by Feyre’s devious mind. The best part about this storyline, however, was not her actions… it was the way that Maas wrote the consequences of Feyre’s actions. The fact that Spring is left with very few defenses is important, as they are the court that borders the mortal lands. It would have been easy to just let Feyre merrily run amuck, but instead we are faced with the realistic difficulties of war when one of your allies is weaker.

I also appreciated the fact that Tamlin didn’t have instant redemption. Indeed, the book’s plot does still not redeem him; though we see signs that maybe he is taking steps in the right direction. It’s no secret that Tamlin exerted every piece of the Power and Control Wheel (aside from using children), and that the relationship in both ACOTAR and ACOMAF was abusive. It would be unrealistic for Tam to suddenly have this epiphany and suddenly be a good male. I really appreciated that Maas didn’t let him off the hook for his previous deeds. Tamlin is hurting, but the way that he had handled the situation was never a positive.

THE MONSTERS. Y’all, I loved the monsters in this book. The Bone Carver, Bryaxis, The Weaver, and my old bestie The Suriel really made this book so much better. I adored every minute that I found them on my pages, and often spent time wondering when I would see them again.

I was very happy to have Lucien around so much in the beginning of the book, though I wish that he had remained one of the central characters. I thought that his character development through all three books was very strong.

The Bad

This book had much less character development than the previous books. It’s always a gamble to finally let the two main characters get together (because that’s when readers get bored), but this book skips over Rhys and Feyre getting to know each other more. I missed their sly remarks and their antagonistic flirtation. Instead of further developing other characters (The High Lords, Azriel, Cassian, Mor, and Amren), Nesta and Elain receive undeserved focus. I hate these characters for being both abusive and neglectful to Feyre for so long; instead, they’re easily forgiven and made into major players in ACOWAR. I haven’t forgiven. I haven’t forgotten. I am still angry. I also felt that Elain’s seer abilities were super obvious from the start, and it annoyed me that no one else could see it.

Along the same lines of the lack of character development, I felt that there was too much action packed into the pages. It seemed that the characters never caught a breath – and neither did I. At the same time, I grew bored of the constant running around from one dramatic moment to the next. Potentially powerful moments lost their luster because I just didn’t care anymore. This is particularly true in the scene where Rhys dies. I should have choked up. I should have felt more emotion about this moment. I just… didn’t. In my heart I knew that it wasn’t permanent. There seemed to be little to no consequence to this war. I knew she wouldn’t let this happen to him. When I read the fateful sentence that should have made me stop and sob, I just kept turning the page.

The Ugly

I’m going to get on my soapbox here.

Sarah J. Maas has been criticized for the lack of diversity within her writing. I agree with the sentiment – I wish that her other books had more LGBTQ+ characters in particular. The pressure was intensifying for her between ACOMAF and ACOWAR, and so she decided that Mor is a lesbian – suddenly, with no prior warning. I feel comfortable about saying “with no prior warning,” as I specifically reread the first two books after finishing the third to make sure that I didn’t miss anything.

I honestly feel like Mor’s character is completely incompatible with this revelation. I don’t feel that she would hide her identity from Rhys, Az, Cassian, and Amren – they are basically the only family that each of them has. I don’t foresee a situation where any of them would feel that she was any less for her sexuality, and I can’t make myself see a space where she would think that they would either. I also don’t think that Mor is a big enough jerk to lead Az on for 500 years. I just can’t see that in her.

I’m also pretty bothered by Maas’s portrayal of bisexuality in the book. As much as I adore Helion, I am frustrated by how stereotypes are being enforced here. Helion is almost hypersexual – he wants to have sex with everyone regardless of who they are or what is in between their legs. He doesn’t seem to want to commit. He is almost the exact portrait of the “greedy slut” that so many people claim bisexuals are.

I’m glad that Sarah J. Maas saw that her fans were missing out on some diversity and she tried to rectify that – props to her for being able to acknowledge her lack – but I am supremely frustrated with both of these portrayals.

Overall, the book was not what I wanted it to be. It felt rushed, shallow, and it left me with many questions and negative feelings. When I read through it for a second time, I did so in order to make sure that I just wasn’t disappointed because I had built up the story to be something that it wasn’t… but I still just felt empty after the reread. I feel like ACOTAR and ACOMAF ramp us up, and then ACOWAR let us down.

I’m sorry, readers. I tried.

3 Bards

 

Book Review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Please welcome the newest member of Team Midsummer: Leia! Leia and Jess both grew up in the suburbs of Charlotte, NC but didn’t meet until they were both students at East Carolina University. After serving as Orientation Assistants during the summer of 2008, they stayed in touch. Give a big welcome to her and help us celebrate her first official review:

Leia holds her Ph.D. in Educational Foundations and Inquiry and is currently a professor of Educational Research. She has been an avid reader for as long as she can remember, and is absolutely obsessed with everything Potter. Her favorite book series include Harry Potter, A Court of Thorns and Roses, and the Gemma Doyle trilogy. She is also obsessed with pugs.

 

 

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery: humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now Scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

Scythe is the first novel of a thrilling new series by National Book Award–winning author Neal Shusterman in which Citra and Rowan learn that a perfect world comes only with a heavy price.

I needed a good story to help break through my post-ACOWAR book hangover, and I certainly found it in Scythe. I have meandered between books, not really committing to any one in particular (and finishing all at a slow pace since none could keep my attention for long)… until I stumbled upon this book.

Shusterman is a name that I tend to hear in passing in the book clubs that I frequent, but I had never read his work before. A friend picked up Scythe and insisted that it was right up my alley – and I can’t thank her enough. It is a fast paced read which picks up to a break-neck speed about halfway through. This is definitely a book that I lost sleep over this week.

Humanity has reached a point where death is no longer a guarantee. Instead of continuing to age, individuals are able to turn back their genes in order to relive their younger years – often resetting to their early twenties. Sickness and pain are things of the past, as “nanites” are injected into the bloodstream of all people in order to keep their bodies healthy and healed. “Splatting,” the process of killing yourself in creative ways, has become a popular past time – splatters are revived and able to continue their lives within a few days. This presents a problem, of course, as people continue to reproduce and the earth is more and more populated.

In order to cull the population, Scythes are trained and ordained to glean the lives of individuals. Each Scythe, however, is given the freedom to glean as they see fit. The book follows Citra and Rowan as they serve and apprenticeship under the great Scythe Faraday.

Citra and Rowan are fantastic as main characters, and I found myself holding my breath as their journey into Scythedom intensified. While a romantic interest between the two is hinted at, it is not a main part of the story itself. This would normally be a turn off for me – I am definitely a fan of romance – but its near-absence never phased me. I feel that anything more than what is present would have felt wrong for the characters, which are focused instead on perfecting the art of death.

I am notorious for predicting story arcs and twists, but never saw the majority of this book coming. Because of this, I am hesitant to say more about the book, lest I spoil something for future readers. The experience was one that I will not soon forget.

4.5 Bards

 

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