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: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

The fifty contestants in the Miss Teen Dream pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in their state-appropriate costumes and compete in front of the cameras. But sadly, their airplane had another idea crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eyeliner.

What’s a beauty queen to do? Continue to practice for the talent portion of the program–or wrestle snakes to the ground? Get a perfect tan–or learn to run wild? And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?

Welcome to the heart of non-exfoliated darkness.

I read this book back when it first came out and I still really love it. However, only some things still hold up for me.

Let’s start with the good things I love about it. I know that for a lot of people, Bray’s over-the-top satire and stereotypes can be a little grating, but I really love it. It’s a super scathing look at our society in general, but especially our society’s ideas about femininity and girlhood. I loved it when I was 20, and I love it now.

I think I can credit this book with my first step to calling myself a feminist and when I first started to realize that not being like other girls was total BS. And I related to Adina so much when I read this years ago, and I found myself yelling at her the way that I yell at past me. I love her journey with unlearning internalized misogyny (and I totally relate too much to hating her mom for jumping to relationship to relationship (but that’s another story)).

What I love most about this, is that everyone learns something about themselves AND others. We all have misconceptions about ourselves and each other, but as women (especially young women) we’re taught to see each other as competition and this book hyper focuses on that. Overall, I think the heavy-handedness of the book works really well and it’s just overly ridiculous and funny and brilliant.

But there are two things that I don’t really like about it, Petra’s forced outing and the back and forth of Jennifer and Sosie’s relationship. Luckily, in these circumstances of fiction, nothing goes wrong too wrong with outing Petra. But in the real world, being forcibly outed as a trans person can be incredibly traumatic AND dangerous. In this situation of a deserted island there are no consequences for the girls that out Petra and they all learn something valuable from knowing a trans person, which is really just gross and that shouldn’t be what we’re teaching young girls.

Jennifer and Sosie’s friendship turned relationship turned friendship is really bothersome to me because, for one, Sosie doesn’t actually say that she’s bisexual, and two, it paints the stereotype that bisexual people don’t know what they want. Jennifer is a lesbian; she knows she likes girls and she went for the girl. Sosie, on the other hand, doesn’t know for sure what her sexuality is and that’s fine! It’s okay to be figuring out your sexuality, but with making Sosie the one that goes back and forth about her feelings for Jennifer, it perpetuates the stereotype the bisexual people are just confused and don’t know what they want and they’ll just leave you and that’s not okay.

So as much as I love Libba Bray, and as much as I do love this book, I can’t give it more than 3 bards.

The Re-Read Frenzy

So, now that Summer has rolled around and changes are hitting the Midsummer team (Jess is starting a new job and Olyvia is moving to Texas) we have both been caught up in re-reading some of our favorites. Re-reading can be something that can make you feel comfortable and as if you are hanging out with an old friend.  There is also something to be said about how re-reading can encourage children to continue to discover new novels and stories similar to those they already love.  In fact, I really think that re-reading was a huge influence on how much I adore reading today.

Although, to be fair, the first book I liked to re-read was The Foot Book by Dr. Seuss and I didn’t so much read it as I had it memorized and would randomly flip the pages to make it look like I was reading! (I was a precocious kid)

Another benefit of re-reading favorites is that you will always find something new.  I’m yet to re-read a novel and be unsurprised by a small detail I’ve never noticed or even had a specific sentence or scene jump out at me in a whole new way.  It’s so fun.

From two book nerds to you: here are some of our favorite re-reads and why we enjoy taking time out of our busy reading schedule to sit back down and remember why we loved them in the first place.

Olyvia: It helps when I’m in a reading slump, but also when I can’t choose what to read next, if I go back to my favorites I’ll usually pick something new but similar.

Olyvia’s Go-To Re-Reads

The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
Throne of Glass Series by Sarah J. Maas
Anything Libba Bray.

Jessica’s Go-To Re-Reads: 

Throne of Glass Series by Sarah J. Maas
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

What are some of your favorite re-reads?  What book do you always turn to in time of reading slump or indecision?

If anything, you can take this from our post: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas is definitely a series you should pick up, read, and re-read.

Book Review: The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray

51lGn5Ab+qL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_It has been a year of change since Gemma Doyle arrived at the foreboding Spence Academy. Her mother murdered, her father alaudanum addict, Gemma has relied on an unsuspected strength and has discovered an ability to travel to an enchanted world called the realms, where dark magic runs wild. Despite certain peril, Gemma has bound the magic to herself and forged unlikely new alliances. Now, as Gemma approaches her London debut, the time has come to test these bonds.

The Order—the mysterious group her mother was once part of—is grappling for control of the realms, as is the Rakshana. Spence’s burned East Wing is being rebuilt, but why now? Gemma and her friends see Pippa, but she is not the same. And their friendship faces its gravest trial as Gemma must decide once and for all what role she is meant for.

Whew. 819 pages is a lot more than the first two of this trilogy. So it was a little harder to get through this one than the others, it felt like it was dragging on in places. But the last 300 pages or so definitely picked up for the conclusion.

The whole series definitely makes my feminist heart happy. I know it’s Victorian London and so it’s a different time, but the message of women gaining their own power and learning to navigate the world on their own is one that can be applied even now. I think Bray does a great job of infusing that through all three books. Bray definitely makes a point of giving these girls power, not just in the magical sense, but in the personal sense as well. One of the things I think she does best is forcing her characters (Gemma, at the very least) to confront the privilege that comes with that power. She is constantly confronted about what to do in the realms, and with her interactions with Kartik. Because though she has feelings for him, she also has more power and privilege and she may mean well, but that doesn’t always mean what she’s saying/doing doesn’t represent that power.

Gemma’s struggle throughout this book of who to trust and what to do is very reminiscent of my own teenage years when trying to navigate the world. Granted, she has a lot more at stake with magic and evil at hand, but it’s still really relate-able and that’s what I love about this series. Unlike the second one where I knew who not to trust, I was on the same page as Gemma throughout this book trying to figure out the best course of action and trying to navigate friendships and romance on top of everything else.

I will say, I wish there was more development of Ann and Felicity. Ann does change her circumstances, but that’s more background information, more of an afterthought than anything else. As much as I love Felicity Worthington, she doesn’t grow as much as I wished she did. Bray does a great job of focusing on the development of Gemma, that the other two girls get left behind in that respect.

Overall, I love this trilogy and I would definitely recommend this to anyone who loves female protagonists and magic and friendship. I loved how this book wrapped up, even if it took a while to get there, so I give it 4 bards.

fourbards

Book Review: Rebel Angels by Libba Bray

Rebel_AngelsGemma Doyle is looking forward to a holiday from Spence Academy—spending time with her friends in the city, attending balls in fancy gowns with plunging necklines, and dallying with the handsome Lord Denby. Yet amid these distractions, her visions intensify—visions of three girls dressed in white, to whom something horrific has happened that only the realms can explain.

The lure is strong, and soon Gemma, Felicity, and Ann are turning flowers into butterflies in the enchanted world that Gemma takes them to. To the girls’ great joy, their beloved Pippa is there as well, eager to complete their circle of friendship.

But all is not well in the realms—or out. Kartik is back, desperately insisting to Gemma that she must bind the magic, lest colossal disaster befall her. Gemma is willing to comply, for this would bring her face-to-face with her late mother’s greatest friend, now Gemma’s foe—Circe. Until Circe is destroyed, Gemma cannot live out her destiny. But finding Circe proves a most perilous task. . . .

I loved this second installment so much. Especially the ending, everything was wrapped up so nicely, but still leaving an opening for the next book. I really enjoyed the message that the ending brings. A message of understanding and letting go and ultimately that you people won’t always do what you want them to, and people may disappoint you, but that’s no reason not to keep going and not to have hope. Years later, I’m still really impressed that this is only her second book ever.

It’s refreshing that we get to see London instead of Spence, and also different parts of the Realms. As lovely as the gardens were, it does get old seeing the same thing over and over again. I think Bray does an excellent job of describing the rest of the beauty (and horror) of the Realms. Getting to see the other aspect of the girls’ lives, and all the drama that comes with being a lady in Victorian London, was very exciting.
I love that Gemma starts to realize/understand her privilege, and that’s eye opening for a lot of readers as well. You can say something to someone that you think is a compliment, but is actually incredibly insulting. Props to Libba Bray for letting her character realize this and try to make up for it, rather than just sitting with it and not understanding that as a rich, white girl, you are very privileged, and not every one wants to be like you.

I will say that I KNEW IT (though I won’t say what “it” is to avoid spoilers). But, I’m not sure if I knew because I remembered it, or if it was just that obvious. If it was that obvious, I wonder if it was on purpose. Like we know something that Gemma doesn’t, and we keep thinking throughout the book, “oh no, Gemma don’t do that!” Whether it was or wasn’t intentionally obvious, I still think it was done really well, and it doesn’t take away from the rest of hte story at all, adds suspense, even.

Definitely would recommend and give 5 bards.

fivebards

Book Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

a-great-and-terrible-beautyIt’s 1895, and after the suicide of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life she knows in India to Spence, a proper boarding school in England. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma’s reception there is a chilly one. To make things worse, she’s been followed by a mysterious young Indian man, a man sent to watch her. But why? What is her destiny? And what will her entanglement with Spence’s most powerful girls—and their foray into the spiritual world—lead to?

I love Libba Bray. She’s one of my favorite YA authors. I read the Gemma Doyle trilogy years ago, and while I remembered the premise, I didn’t really remember everything about it so I was really glad to be able to read it again and write a review this time!

What I love about Gemma is that we can see her internal struggle with wanting to fit in but also trying to still be herself. Especially, with her newfound, and as yet mysterious, power, all she wants is to be normal. But many times wanting to be normal doesn’t stop her from wanting to be different from the other girls at Spence Academy.

I think Bray does a great job of creating these very similar but also very different female characters, and making their friendship the focus of everything. With all that Gemma goes through, in only the first book, she learns more and more to rely on her friends, and for me that’s one of the most important things to read about in literature, especially literature aimed and young girls.

My favorite part of the story is the magic part. I’ve always been a sucker for magic and mystery and this definitely has both. The magic is unique to this story, and I’d never read any type of interpretation like this until this story, which makes Bray’s world-building that much more amazing.It definitely has enough mystery to keep you interested but not too much to leave wondering. I’d give the first in the trilogy 4.5 bards.

four.fivebards

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