Book Review: Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray

New York City. 
Lights are bright.
Jazz is king.
Parties are wild.

And the dead are coming…

After battling a supernatural sleeping sickness that early claimed two of their own, the Diviners have had enough of lies. They’re more determined than ever to uncover the mystery behind their extraordinary powers, even as they face off against an all-new terror. Out on Ward’s Island, far from the city’s bustle, sits a mental hospital haunted by the lost souls of people long forgotten–ghosts who have unusual and dangerous ties to the man in the stovepipe hat, also known as the King of Crows.
With terrible accounts of murder and possession flooding in from all over and New York City on the verge of panic, the Diviners must band together and brave the sinister ghosts invading the asylum, a fight that will bring them face-to-face with the King of Crows. But as the explosive secrets of the past come to light, loyalties and friendships will be tested, love will hang in the balance, and the Diviners will question all that they’ve ever known. All the while, malevolent forces gather from every corner in a battle for the very soul of a nation–a fight that could claim the Diviners themselves.
I just…
I don’t even know where to start with this book. It is amazing. I consider myself to be one of Libba Bray’s top fans. I picked up A Great and Terrible Beauty back in 2003 when it was on the new arrivals shelf, and I’ve religiously followed her work since then. I have read The Gemma Doyle trilogy more times than I can count.
But this… this book is her best yet. It’s amazing – one of the best I’ve ever read. It has everything; gasp-inducing horror, tremendous character growth, an overall sense of dread that left me unable to put it down, and plot points that broke my heart. The cast of characters have grown so much over the first three books in Libba’s four-book series, and I feel as though they have become truly real and fleshed out by this entry.
My favorite thing about this book is that we continue to see more and more diversity throughout the cast. The cast is racially and ethnically diverse, but also includes many characters who identify as various sexualities. I would love to also see some gender diversity present, but I can not complain whatsoever because Libba is doing what I wish more YA authors were… characters who identify as a sexual minority are main characters, and their sexual orientation is not their defining characteristic.
That bears repeating. There are lesbian, gay, and questioning characters whose defining personality traits are NOT their sexualities. 
As I mentioned in my Lair of Dreams review, Libba does not shy away from discussing the harsh realities of being different in the 1920s. Unfortunately, some of these harsh realities described in Before the Devil Breaks You are still reflected in American culture today. Libba doesn’t pull punches.
This book is so intricate, and there are so many things going on, that I can’t say much without spoiling it. Trust me, this is a journey that you should take for yourself – totally spoiler free.
Also, if you have the chance, the Audible version of the book is incredible. January LaVoy is probably the best reader that I have ever listened to. I plan to look up more of her audiobooks just to hear her again!
Here’s to my first 5-Bard review! Before the Devil Breaks You certainly deserves it!

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

Book Review: Going Bovine by Libba Bray

Can Cameron find what he’s looking for? 

All 16-year-old Cameron wants is to get through high school—and life in general—with a minimum of effort. It’s not a lot to ask. But that’s before he’s given some bad news: he’s sick and he’s going to die. Which totally sucks. Hope arrives in the winged form of Dulcie, a loopy punk angel/possible hallucination with a bad sugar habit. She tells Cam there is a cure—if he’s willing to go in search of it. With the help of a death-obsessed, video-gaming dwarf and a yard gnome, Cam sets off on the mother of all road trips through a twisted America into the heart of what matters most.

I am on the home stretch of Molly Horan’s list of 15 Young Adult Books Every Adult Should Read. The next book I read from the list is Going Bovine by Libba Bray. 

So I just finished this book, like two minutes ago and have a definite book hangover right now. I don’t even know how to process what I just read. The story was excellent, characters were brilliant and well thought out, the setting was great and the adventure was real. The book starts with your average kid who is just doing the bare minimum to pass through life. And then he learns that he is dying of Mad Cow disease of all things. The interesting thing about Mad Cow is that it makes you go a little crazy, like having hallucinations crazy. That is what makes the story so interesting, and in fact it made the story what it is. 

The whole time I was reading this book I knew that the adventure was all in his mind and yet I still had hope that there was a cure for him at the end. It wasn’t until the last chapters that the book that I realized for real he was not going to get better and it wasn’t about finding a cure, it was about living life to the fullest. It made me want to go out and have an adventure because you never know what could happen to you. I thought this book was just great. It wasn’t cheesy or overly sad as it could have been, given the subject matter. 

I both loved and hated when Cameron would slip in and out of his hallucinations. When he would come back to reality it sort of brought you back to the realization that he was dying and this grand adventure is all in his head. And that his family had to watch him die a slow agonizing death. That was hard. I also grew to love Dulcie. I wasn’t sure what the purpose of her character was at first, besides starting the journey. But she was more than a supporting character. She ended up being his peace in the end. And that is beautiful. I can only hope that there is someone that is there to bring us peace at the end of our lives. There was not I did not like about this book. Of course I hated that he died but really that was not a surprise. I give a big thumbs up to this book. Good job, Libba Bray. 

4.5 Bards

Top Ten Tuesday!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted for us book blogger types by the Broke and the Bookish. They provide a topic, and all of us participants post our answers on our blogs and we hop around checking out one another’s answers! This week’s topic is:

Top Ten Favorite Books I Read Before I was a Blogger

1. Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea by Chelsea Handler

2. Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray

3. City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass by Cassandra Clare

4. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

5. Divergent by Veronica Roth

6. Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris

7. Fever series by Karen Marie Moning

8. This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen

9. The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

10. Poison Study by Maria Snyder 

There were so many more, but I couldn’t list them all!

Book Review: 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-toot-ly thrilled. New York is the city of speakeasies, shopping, and movie palaces!

Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfield girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is Evie has to live with her Uncle Will, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult–also known as “The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies.”

When a rash of occult-based murders comes to light, Evie and her uncle are right in the thick of the investigation. And through it all, Evie has a secret: a mysterious power that could help catch the killer–if he doesn’t catch her first.

Release Date: September 18, 2012

I was so estatic to get my hands on a copy of this book, Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy was one of the first Victorian based young adult series that I read and they cemented me as a Bray fan. So when I heard that not only was Bray coming out with another paranormal series, but one set in Jazz Era New York City, I’m pretty sure I squealed with barely controlled glee.

Overall, I have to say that I enjoyed reading The Diviners.  However, there are some things to be aware of that differ greatly from her other paranormal historical novels: point of view, length, and word choice.

I’ll start with point of view.  For me, POV can be very difficult to understand the need to switch between characters…and the fact that Bray switches between no less than FIVE characters’ point of views really threw me off.  Honestly, it was this that caused me to take a long time to buy into the characters and the story in general.  I wasn’t sure which narrators were truly reliable and who was there just to throw in a little extra flair.

I would have been satisfied had the entire novel been narrated by Evie (to cover one side of the city’s action) and Memphis.  It would have made the alternating chapter voices easier to track.  I kept having to go back to the beginning of the chapters to figure out who was narrating and which side of the story I was getting.  The POV switching really took away from the story.

Length is not something that Bray shies away from (I mean look at the final Gemma Doyle Book…it clocked in at 819 pages), but I feel that 608 pages was a bit long for a first novel in a series…and there were significant details that could have been removed.  Now, I did read an advanced reader copy of this novel, so it might have been changed for the final edition…but I felt that while I enjoyed Memphis’ outlook on things in the POV switches…I felt that him as a character lifted right out.  There was nothing really tying him to the other characters in this novel besides a chance meeting with Theta.   Maybe in the second installment the sides will come together and form an allegiance.  For now…it felt incomplete…EVEN at 608 pages. Perhaps had the POVs stuck with just Evie.  I’m not saying that 608 is bad, just that it was a bit longer than maybe it had to be based on all of the POV switches and it is rather long for a first installment.

The word choice was in a word: Brilliant.  I was familiar with a good bit of Jazz era slang due to a project I had to do in high school.  You will love the way that Bray immerses you in the culture through the vocabulary used by Evie and her friends.  Not only this, but Bray does a good job of using those slang words to describe the scenes to readers as well, which creates an even more advanced level of world building.

As I stated earlier, I really did enjoy reading The Diviners once the story started to pick up after the switching POVs overwhelmed at the beginning.

4 Bards.

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