Vicious: A Review

“The world resists, when you break its rules.”

Vicious by V. E. SchwabVictor and Eli have been competing with each other since the moment they met. Victor could easily surpass Eli, of course. But he recognizes the same reckless ambition in Eli and, Victor thinks, the same broken pieces that Victor can’t quite fix in himself. In a world where so many things are boring Eli, at least, is interesting.

Eli proves to be especially interesting in their senior year of college when their shared thesis research about adrenaline and near-death experiences reveals that under the right circumstances it may be possible to develop ExtraOrdinary abilities.

Their fates tangle even further when experiments with that research go horribly wrong.

Ten years later Victor and Eli find themselves on opposite sides of a battle for power. While Victor breaks out of prison determined to exact revenge on the friend who betrayed him, Eli is on a mission of his own to eliminate every ExtraOrdinary person that he can.

Victor and Eli both know a final meeting is inevitable. They both know only one is likely to survive. But even as they move inexorably closer to that final confrontation, it’s unclear who will emerge the hero. And who will forever be remembered as the villain in Vicious (2013) by V. E. Schwab.*

Vicious is an intricately plotted story of revenge and the not-quite redemption of Victor Vale. With chapters labeled “ten years ago” and “last night” (among other times) readers are brought closer and closer to Victor and Eli’s dramatic showdown. Flashbacks interspersed with the present story explain the rivalry between the two men while also providing valuable insight into their characters.

Schwab expertly navigates the murky area between right and wrong as readers (and perhaps the characters themselves) are left wondering who, if anyone, is the actual hero of the story.  With a plot exploring the idea that opposing a self-proclaimed hero–even for very good, very right reasons–might make someone a villain by default, Vicious is still populated with a number of surprisingly likable characters.

Vicious pushes the boundaries of conventional superhero tropes to take this story in a new and original direction. Readers looking for the next great anti-hero or fans who always cheer a little louder for the bad guy will definitely want to give Vicious a try.

*V. E. Schwab is the alter ego of YA author Victoria Schwab. This book is marketed for adult readers. It would be great for older teen readers but younger readers should be prepared for more mature language and some violence.

Possible Pairings: Plain Kate by Erin Bow, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, The Brokenhearted by Amelia Kahaney, Proxy by Alex London, Fracture by Megan Miranda, Watchmen by Alan Moore, The Superhero Handbook by Michael Powell, Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*

The Dream Thieves: A Review

The Dream Thieves by Maggie StiefvaterEverything changed for Blue, Gansey, Ronan and Adam before they ever found Cabeswater. Things changed for Noah long before that.

Now that the ley lines have awakened even more changes are coming to the small town of Henrietta. There will certainly be more moments of wonder; maybe even things coming close to magic. But darker things are also being drawn to the power of the lines.

Ronan always knew that his family was different. He always knew that his dreams were different. Ronan always knew that, in some fundamental ways, he was different.

It wasn’t, after all, everyone who had a pet raven named Chainsaw. Nor was it everyone who acquired such a pet from his own dreams.

As Gansey’s search for Glendower and Cabeswater continues it soon becomes clear that Ronan’s dreams are at the center of their latest puzzle. But with so many people searching and grasping for pieces of Cabeswater, it’s unclear how much will have to be lost before the next piece of the puzzle will be found in The Dream Thieves (2013) by Maggie Stiefvater.

The Dream Thieves is the second book in Stiefvater’s Raven Boys quartet. This book picks up closely after the conclusion of book one, The Raven Boys. While both books are delightful on their own, it’s unlikely readers new to the series will be able to catch up without reading the first installment.

This book focuses much more on Ronan even as Stiefvater continues to delve into the mysteries surrounding Glendower and Gansey’s search. Blue and Gansey have their moments, of course, but it was a pleasant surprise to have the book focus so much on Ronan. (Even more of a surprise to realize how very likable he is as a character.)

Stiefvater’s writing is top-notch as this series continues. The focus on Ronan’s dreams and a new secondary character takes the story in a new direction while Stiefvater’s beautiful prose and familiar characters continue to deliver everything readers will remember with fondness from The Raven Boys.

The Dream Thieves is a perfect blend of skillful storytelling and suspense as tension builds until the final confrontations in the story. Being the second book in a series of four, there are (of course) several questions left by the end of the story including a very surprising ending. That said, Stiefvater delivers everything fans will hope for and expect from her in this novel along with a story that is certain to resonate with readers.

Possible Pairings:  Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Drink, Slay, Love by Sarah Beth Durst, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*

Born of Illusion: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Fortune-telling laws are getting stricter and stricter so all it takes is one disgruntled client ratting us out to the authorities and we’re in deep trouble. They allow us to hold our magic and mentalist shows because they’re considered harmless entertainment. It’s the private seances the authorities object to, but the amount of money we get is worth the risk.”

Born of Illusion by Teri BrownAnna Van Housen has been a part of her mother’s mentalist act for years. She has also helped break her mother out of jail countless times when she is arrested during one of their fake seances. Herself a gifted magician, Anna loves performing magic in front of a crowd almost as much as she hates the seances. But the money makes it impossible to stop.

Posing as a medium and performing false seances might be a crime, but for Anna the real risk isn’t being outed as a fraud; it’s having people find out she really does have psychical powers.

As she and her mother start once again in Jazz Age New York City, Anna begins having strange visions of her mother in danger. Surrounded by new people, in a new city, Anna’s powers become stronger and dangers seem to be everywhere. As she tries to learn more about her abilities and her mysterious downstairs neighbor, Anna is drawn into a world of psychical abilities and the paranormal.

In order to get to the root of her visions, and her own complicated relationship with her mother, Anna will have to separate the illusions from the truth in Born of Illusion (2013) by Teri Brown.

Born of Illusion is the first book in a series. The sequelBorn of Deception is scheduled to publish in 2014.

Born of Illusion is a wonderful blend of fact and fiction as Brown integrates real people and events into a completely unique plot. Anna is a refreshingly self-assured, confident heroine who knows exactly what she wants if not always whom.* The supporting cast in Born of Illusion is equally well-written and enjoyable. In a book that operates in grey areas, all of the characters are realistically human and, yes, sometimes flawed. While the story centers on Anna and her unsettling visions, Brown also expertly unpacks Anna’s complex relationship with her mother throughout the story.

Anna’s checkered past as a show-woman and her magic act add even more atmosphere to a delightful story.

There are a lot of books set in the 1920s. Many of those books are set in New York City. Brown adds something new to that conversation with her novel filled with magic and adventure. Born of Illusion will be a delight for readers of historical fiction and paranormal novels alike.

*There is a lover triangle of sorts in this book and it isn’t a strong  story element although I understand the need for it. Ultimately I enjoyed the book enough to overlook it.

Possible Pairings: The Diviners by Libba Bray, The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron, Always a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, Selling Hope by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*

Prodigy: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Prodigy by Marie LuJune and Day arrive in Vegas just in time for everything to change: The Elector Primo has died. His son, Anden, will replace him as leader of the Republic.

Escaped fugitives desperate to get away from the reach of the Republic, June and Day fall in with the Patriots–an organization trying to overthrow the Republic. The Patriots are happy to help Day find his brother and get them all passage to the neighboring Colonies. For a price.

If June and Day help assassinate the new Elector, they can finally be free, maybe even happy. And together.

The only problem is that as June learns more about the Patriots and their plan she realizes the new Elector might not be the problem and the Patriots might not be anyone she or Day can trust.

Revolution might not be the only way to change things in the Republic. Bloodshed and war might not be the only cost either in Prodigy (2013) by Marie Lu.

Prodigy is the sequel to Lu’s wildly popular debut, Legend. The Legend trilogy will conclude with Champion‘s release in November 2013.

Prodigy picks up right where Legend left off with Day and June on the run. Lu deftly combines new and old information to bring readers up to speed without sacrificing the story’s pacing.

Once again the novel alternates between chapters narrated by Day and June. There are more false starts and near misses as both Day and June begin to wonder about their future in the midst of disapproval and their own doubts.

Prodigy is a clever, action-packed story of revolution and change. Lu expertly unpacks the idea of working within the system versus without. Prodigy also delivers a lot more information about the world of the Republic as well as its neighboring countries to add a fascinating dimension of world politics to the story.

With an ending that is as shocking as it is heartbreaking, Prodigy is sure to leave readers eager for this trilogy’s final installment–a book that is sure to be another stunner in a fine series.

Possible Pairings: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, White Cat by Holly Black, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Selection by Kiera Cass, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Wither by Lauren DeStefano, Proxy by Alex London, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Divergent by Veronica Roth, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2012*

Magisterium: A Review

Magisterium by Jeff HirschSixteen-year-old Glenn Morgan has lived next to the Rift her entire life–staring through the forest at the bright, red lights marking the border between the Colloquium and somewhere else. Kevin Kapoor tells her that the other side of the Rift is filled with magic and mutants–wolf-like creatures and maybe even witches.

Glenn doesn’t have time for magic. Or Kevin Kapoor.

Ever since her mother disappeared ten years ago, Glenn’s life has taken on a singular focus: get good grades, join the Deep Space Service, travel across the universe to planet 813 and get the hell away from everything and everyone else in her life. Her father hates the idea. But her father has been a shadow of himself since Mom disappeared–wasting away as he works on the mysterious Project that he might never finish.

Except he does finish; building something that looks more like a piece of jewelry than a piece of technology with the potential to change everything on both sides of the Rift.

Entrusted with the Project, chased by Authority, all of Glenn’s plans for the future become irrelevant as she and Kevin are forced to run with only one place left to hide in Magisterium (2012) by Jeff Hirsch.

Magisterium is Jeff Hirsch’s second novel (following his debut The Eleventh Plague).

Magisterium is a satisfying combination of fantasy and science fiction as Hirsch blends together the best elements of both to create a unique, exciting story. I hesitate to give too much away but Hirsch has conjured two dramatically different worlds on either side of the Rift to create a strong, evocative setting. As the story progresses the land itself seems to become a character in the novel as Glenn and Kevin learn more about what lies on the other side of the Rift.

Glenn is a conflicted heroine, forced to negotiate between her own agenda and the tasks that circumstance have forced upon her. She is also strong, grounded and determined–all nice qualities to find in a character. She is accompanied by several great characters throughout the story–notably Kevin Kapoor who is funny, cheerful and stalwart even in the face of Glenn’s feigned indifference making them a great pair to read about.

Hirsch’s writing is also excellent as he creates a gripping, exciting story. Sometimes there is almost too much action between the dramatic chases and dangers across the Rift. In the midst of all that, Magisterium also raises interesting questions about family and the ideas of unconditional love, home, and even the nature of friendship as almost everything Glenn trusts is stripped away.

I also have to say, I love Jeff Hirsch for writing stand alone novels. It’s so refreshing when everything seems to be part of a series or have some kind of cliffhanger. Magisterium is a nicely contained story with action, magic and some very difficult decisions as Glenn realizes that after some choices there is no road home. Highly recommended for readers looking to transition into the fantasy or science fiction genres.

Possible Pairings: The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi, False Memory by Dan Krokos, Sabriel by Garth Nix, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

You can also read my exclusive interview with Jeff Hirsch!

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2012*

The Caged Graves: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Caged Graves by Dianne K. SalerniWith the Civil War just recently ended and life returning to normal, Verity Boone leaves behind the only family she has ever known in Worcester, Pennsylvania to return to her birthplace of Catawissa in 1867. While she is leaving behind urban convenience and dear relatives, Verity is eager to see her father and her old family home.

She is also keen to meet Nate, the man who courted her and proposed through letters, for the first time face-to-face.

When Verity arrives in Catawissa nothing is quite what she expected. The Boone house is rundown and neglected. Her father is unsure how to reconcile the two-year-old daughter he sent away upon his wife’s death with the seventeen-year-old woman who returned from Worcester. Even her father’s housekeeper is distant.

Worse, Nate is not what Verity expected from his letters. Faced with the reality of agreeing to marry a practical stranger, Verity wonders if coming back to Catawissa was a terrible mistake.

Verity’s misgivings multiply when she first visits the Catawissa cemetery. There she finds two graves encased in iron cages just outside the cemetery walls–buried in unconsecrated ground. Locals have any number of explanations: witchcraft, grave robbers, even rumors of hidden treasure. Verity knows these outlandish stories must be hiding a darker truth and she is determined to discover Catawissa’s secrets. As Verity tries to unearth the truth about the caged graves and Catawissa’s troubled past, she also begins to understand her own place in the town and among her own family in The Caged Graves (2013) by Dianne K. Salerni.

The Caged Graves was inspired by two real caged graves the author saw in Catawissa. Nothing is known about the purpose of the cages but their presence inspired this novel.

The Caged Graves is a spooky, gripping read. It does not, however, include any supernatural or paranormal elements despite what the jacket summary might suggest. This book is a straightforward historical mystery. And it’s delightful.

Verity is a determined, likable heroine in a thoroughly engrossing story. Salerni’s writing is evocative of the period and well-paced as tension builds throughout the story. All of the characters in the story are well-developed and add to the story in their own way. Verity and Nate’s uneasy courtship was a particularly nice story element. I was also thrilled to see Verity’s reconnecting with her father become such a large part of the story.

With so many (lovely) historical fantasies hitting the market it was nice to find The Caged Graves was a purer historical read. The mystery element sneaks into the story as the focus shifts from Verity adjusting to Catawissa life to Verity investigating the graves. Although the resolution was a bit rushed, the ending the of the story came together logically with a very gratifying twist. The Caged Graves is a pleasant read sure to leave readers happy and eager to research the era (and the real caged graves) as soon as the story is finished.

Possible Pairings: Frost by Marianna Baer, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

The 5th Wave: A Review

The 5th Wave by Rick YanceyWhat if every alien invasion scenario in every movie and book was wrong? What if there is no rallying point? What if the People in Charge never figure it out?

What if you’re left alone with no one to trust?

No one expected the aliens to win–even with their advanced technology, even with the 1st wave bringing darkness. After the 2nd wave, when only the lucky survived, people started to know the score. After the 3rd wave the only ones left are the unlucky ones.

After the 4th wave there’s only one thing left to do: Trust no one.

And now the 5th wave might be starting and humanity is so royally screwed this whole invasion is starting to feel like a terrible joke.

Cassie might be the only human left alive. She is definitely the only person she can trust.

But Cassie has a promise to keep and a long way to go before she can lay down and let the aliens win. Cassie might be alone, she might be all that’s left of humanity. But if that’s true, it also means Cassie has to face what’s coming because she is the battlefield in humanity’s last war in The 5th Wave (2013) by Rick Yancey.

The 5th Wave is the first book in Yancey’s 5th Wave trilogy. There is definitely still tons more to tell but The 5th Wave is still a nicely contained story with a perfect balance of suspense and closure (even if I absolutely had to stay up until 4am to finish reading it).

Yancey takes a familiar scenario from science fiction and turns it completely upside down: not only are the aliens smarter, they’re winning. Not only are they winning, they’re probably going to keep winning.

And yet in a world essentially without hope we get characters made of steel with an inherent resilience and courage.

It’s hard to talk about more here without ruining the surprises of Yancey’s expert plotting and masterful writing. Truly, The 5th Wave is a masterpiece with brilliant plotting as everything readers think they know is thrown into question again and again as the story continues. Yancey expertly uses multiple viewpoints to tell an intricate story with carefully time reveals and more than a few twists.

Possible Pairings: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, False Memory by Dan Krokos, Legend by Marie Lu, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix,  Divergent by Veronica Roth, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers, Pod by Stephen Wallenfels, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein