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

The Madness Underneath: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Madness Underneath by Maureen JohnsonThe Madness Underneath (2013) by Maureen Johnson is the second book in Johnson’s Shades of London Quartet. It takes up very closely where book 1, The Name of the Star, left off.

I’m not even going to summarize this book because it is essentially unintelligible if you haven’t read The Name of the Star. That’s just the way it is. As such, this review is much more off the cuff than my usual postings.

(I also have a theory that the Shades of London series should really be a trilogy with the content of this book spread between book one and book three, but that’s a different matter.)

I was very conflicted about this book because I really loved the start of the series and was excited to see what happened next. Then I read the book and . . . now I don’t know what to feel because not much actually happens in The Madness Underneath. There are red herrings, there is moping and panic about school. There is not enough of my beloved Stephen. And then the book kind of ends without resolving anything–except confirming that everything is ruined forever. There is a very satisfying thread with Rory coming back to herself and learning to be strong in the wake of injury. But that is dampened by having to slog through scenes of the most unsatisfying book relationship in the entire world between Rory and Jerome.

I don’t like being held hostage by a series with cliffhanger endings and unresolved plot threads. Which is exactly what Johnson delivered in The Madness Underneath. And yet, I so loved the start of the series and I am still so fond of Rory’s narrative voice that I’ll probably continue with the series despite my extreme frustration and distress. I’ve read books where worse things happen and everything works out in the end but my faith in Maureen Johnson was sorely tested by this book. Sorely. Tested.

If you too were deeply upset by the ending of The Madness Underneath, Maureen Johnson has a handy “therapeutic” post for readers on her Tumblr.

Possible Pairings: Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, Fracture by Megan Miranda, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

Exclusive Bonus Content: So I submitted a .gif to Giffy Reviews that pretty much sums up my feelings about the book if you want this review in its most distilled form. Basically: it’s a sinking ship.

The Archived: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Stories about winding halls, and invisible doors, and places where the dead are kept like books on shelves. Each time you finish a story, you make me tell it back to you, as if you’re afraid I will forget.

“I never do.”

The Archived by Victoria SchwabMackenzie Bishop became a Keeper for the Archive when she was twelve years old. Trained and groomed by her grandfather, Mackenzie knew exactly what being a Keeper would mean. It means danger as she hunts for escaped Histories–records of the dead bound in something very close to flesh and bone–that need to be returned to the Archive. She knows being a Keeper means lying to everyone she knows.

It isn’t easy work. But it gives Mac a solid link to Da and his years of training and stories. It gives Mac the illusion of being close to her younger brother who died a year ago.

Still grieving and lost, Mac’s family moves to a decrepit building trying to start again. As she tiptoes around her mother’s crazy new schemes and her father’s avoidance, Mac soon discovers that a building as old as the Coronado is filled with secrets and lies of its own. Learning more about the building Mac discovers disturbing alterations to Histories within the Archive. Someone wants to hide something about the Coronado. And perhaps about the Archive too. If Mac can’t solve the mystery that remains the entire Archive could collapse in The Archived (2013) by Victoria Schwab.

The Archived is Schwab’s second novel. It is also the first in a series although it stands very nicely on its own. The sequel, The Unbound, is due out in 2014.

The Archived sounds like it should be a grim book. There are dead people. There are sad characters. It should be depressing. Instead, The Archived is an eerie, original read that is simultaneously exciting and contemplative. Mac is a strong, resilient heroine who is flawed and as utterly authentic as the world she inhabits. And what a world. Filled with librarians and keys and secrets The Archived is a unique book filled with all of my favorite things right down to a beautiful cover and book design.

Lyrical memories of Mac’s past are interspersed between action-packed chapters with Mac’s work as a Keeper for the Archive. Schwab skillfully combines a compelling premise with themes of loss and family to create a nuanced mystery sure to dazzle readers.

Possible Pairings: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones Drawing the Ocean by Carolyn MacCullough, Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Perfect Scoundrels: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Perfect Scoundrels by Ally CarterTwo years ago–before Katarina Bishop put together her own heist society and robbed the most secure museum in the world–Kat tried to steal a Monet. Except it was a fake. And instead of a painting she wound up stealing a boy who happily threw himself into Kat’s world.

Stolen or not, W. W. Hale the Fifth isn’t a part of Kat’s world. Not really.

When Hale unexpectedly inherits his grandmother’s billion dollar company, Kat realizes it was, perhaps, inevitable that Hale would eventually return to his own world of wealth and privilege–the one place Kat can’t follow.

Things get worse when Kat learns Hale might be a mark in an elaborate con instead of an unlikely heir.

Saving Hale and his company could be impossible. But Kat’s been told a lot of things are impossible in her short life. And her family is behind her all the way. The only problem is saving Hale Industries may not be the same thing as saving her Hale. And if Kat has to choose, she isn’t sure there is a right answer in Perfect Scoundrels (2013) by Ally Carter.

Perfect Scoundrels is the third book in Carter’s Heist Society series. It is preceded by Heist Society and Uncommon Criminals. (There is also an e-novella featuring characters from this series and Carter’s Gallagher Girls series called Double Crossed which is available online.) Set mere months after Kat’s most infamous heist, Perfect Scoundrels takes a small step back from all of the scheming and planning to provide a welcome look at the characters who readers know and love from this series.

Fear not, there are still quite a few heists, cons, and surprises to be found in this installment. The job might be personal but Kat still has plenty of tricks up her sleeve that will surprise her crew as well as readers in a reveal that makes pulling off the perfect job seem effortless as Perfect Scoundrels ticks away to an ending that readers might not see coming. Kat’s singular family also features prominently in the second half of the story when the pace really picks up after a more character-driven start.

Carter’s enviably sleek writing and careful focus on characters and their relationships (particularly Kat and Hale’s evolving one) make Perfect Scoundrels a page-turner with as many laughs as surprises. And it has Bagshaws, of course. Because as Kat’s cousin Gabrielle will tell you, everything is better with Bagshaws.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, White Cat by Holly Black, What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Danny Danziger, The Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece by Edward Dolnick, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg, The Disreputable History of Frankie-Landau by E. Lockhart, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief by Bill Mason and Lee Gruenfeld, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Leverage (television series), White Collar (television series), The Italian Job (movie)

Code Name Verity: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend.”

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth WeinCode Name Verity (2012) by Elizabeth Wein is a strange book in that, I’m not sure what I can actually tell you about it without ruining everything. A plane has crashed in Nazi-occupied France. The passenger and the pilot are best friends. One girl might be able to save herself while the other never really stood a chance. Faced with an impossible situation, one of the girls begins to weave an intricate confession. Some of it might be embellished, some of it might even be false. But in the end all of it is ultimately the truth–both of her mission and a friendship that transcends all obstacles.

Broken into two parts, Code Name Verity is a masterfully written book as, time and time again, Wein takes everything readers know and turns it upside down as another dimension is added to the plot and its intricate narrative.

If a sign of excellent historical fiction is believing all of the details are presented as fact, then the sign of an excellent novel might well be wanting to re-read it immediately to see just how well all of the pieces fit together. Code Name Verity meets both of these criteria.

With wartime England and France as a backdrop, there is always a vague sense of foreboding and danger hanging over these characters. There is death and violence. There is action and danger. And yet there are also genuinely funny moments and instances of love and resistance.

Nothing in Code Name Verity is what it seems upon first reading–sometimes not even upon second reading. This book is undoubtedly a stunning work of historical fiction filled with atmospheric details of everything from airplanes to Scottish landscapes. But what really sets Code Name Verity apart is the dazzling writing and intricate plot that Wein presents. Then, beyond the plotting and the details, there are the two amazing young women at the center of a book that could have been about war or flying or even spies but ultimately became an exceptional book about true friends.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie,  A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Tamar by Mal Peet, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Dark Unwinding: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Dark UnwindingKatharine Tullman does not want to send her uncle to an asylum anymore than she wants to please her horrible aunt by doing so. Unfortunately Katharine very rarely gets to do anything near what she wants–not if she ever hopes to secure even the smallest bit of independence for herself.

When Katharine arrives at her uncle’s estate she soon realizes that dealing with her uncle is not going to be as cut and dry as she had hoped. Instead of a lunatic she finds her uncle is an incredibly gifted but eccentric inventor. Instead of a ramshackle estate near ruin she finds a village filled with workers rescued from London workhouses.

As Katharine explores the estate and learns more about her uncle, matters become more complicated as she is taken in my a handsome apprentice and an ambitious student. Soon, she realizes she is starting to care about her uncle and his household more than she can afford to given rising questions of her own future. And her own sanity.

With mysteries all around her and far more at stake than she can imagine, Katharine will have to decide who to trust and who to protect in The Dark Unwinding (2012) by Sharon Cameron.

The Dark Unwinding is Cameron’s first novel.

In a delightful blend of suspense, steampunk and historical drama, Cameron has created a delightful world with compelling characters and a plot filled with twists and excitements. The story perfectly captures the wonder of Uncle Tullman’s estate and the urgency felt by everyone who wants to keep it safe.

The question of Katharine’s own sanity and the mysteries surrounding the estate add another satisfying dimension to the story. Best of all Cameron’s writing is wonderful throughout giving each character a unique voice and bringing them to life. The beautiful prose elevates what could have been a sensational action story into something more as Katharine is forced to confront of her own principles and grow as a character as her priorities (and loyalties) change.

The Dark Unwinding is a marvelous book that will linger with readers. The undercurrent of suspense and mystery make it a perfect read for a dark winter night.

Possible Pairings: Born of Illusion by Teri Brown, Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carringer, Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

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

The Darkest Minds: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, she didn’t know her world was about to change. She knew about the disease sweeping through the country’s children–it was impossible to miss when kids kept dying. She didn’t know that surviving the disease was the worse outcome.

Surviving, it turns out, was another word for changing–waking up one day with abilities that used to be the impossible stuff of movies; waking up with strange powers that most of the kids, especially Ruby, can’t begin to understand. Or control.

Now sixteen, Ruby knows just how dangerous she is. She knows she’ll never be allowed to leave Thurmond, the government camp set up to “rehabilitate” other kids like her.

She also knows that she has to escape to survive.

On the run, desperate to get away, Ruby soon falls in with other kids looking for a sanctuary called East River. Ruby knows she can’t let anyone get close–not after what happened on her tenth birthday–but maybe they can all use each other to get to East River in one piece.

Life outside Thurmond isn’t what Ruby expected. Turns out, staying under the radar is hard when you’re dangerous. Ruby lost control of her life when she was ten years old. If she can learn more about her own abilities, she might be able to reclaim that control. But everything in life comes with a price. Especially freedom in The Darkest Minds (2012) by Alexandra Bracken.

The Darkest Minds is Bracken’s second novel. It is also the first in a trilogy.

This book was one of my most anticipated 2012 reads. I fell in love with Bracken’s debut novel Brightly Woven and ever since I could not wait to see what she released next.

Part road trip, part sci-fi adventure, part dystopian The Darkest Minds does not disappoint. With a plot that turns on a dime it is a guaranteed page-turner with an ending that will leave readers anxious for the next installment.

At the same time, The Darkest Minds is so much more than an action-packed read. Ruby’s story is heart-wrenching and horrifying but her resilience and her persistence are fierce to behold. The other characters in the story are vibrant and beautifully written–even at their most villainous.

Bracken has created a disturbing world with elements that are both fantastical and uncomfortably possible in our own world. Ruby’s voice throughout the novel is as smooth as honey filled with descriptions that bring the eerie Virginia landscape of the story vividly to life. The Darkest Minds is a stunning, sometimes harrowing, start to a series; confirming that Bracken is an author to watch.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, False Memory by Dan Krokos, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

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

False Memory: A Review

Miranda wakes up on a park bench with no memory of how she got there. While some details–like her name–are perfectly clear, Miranda’s own reflection is a mystery. Worse, she soon realizes her amnesia is far from normal.

Panicked and alone, Miranda releases an energy that creates pure panic in almost everyone around her. One boy named Peter is immune. He also has answers.

Trusting Peter, Miranda soon learns she is part of an elite force–genetically engineered and trained to be a weapon. While her combat skills feel natural as they return to her, real memories are slower to come. Back home in her supposedly real life, Miranda feels like a stranger as she meets a boyfriend who did the unthinkable to “protect” her and handlers who seem to have even more unthinkable plans in store for Miranda and her friends in False Memory (2012) by Dan Krokos.

False Memory is the first in a series and also Krokos’ first novel.

If the summary didn’t make it clear enough, let me say right up front: False Memory is an action packed adventure filled with chases, fights and more twists than a stick of licorice.*

Krokos has created an interesting premise–teenagers with genetically altered brains able to induce fear–and works with it very successfully for the most part. Some of the science starts to seem more like pseudo-science but since False Memory is a work of fiction, that’s easy to forgive.

Problems with the plot and characters are harder to ignore.

While Krokos works well with Miranda’s checkered memories of her past, not to mention her growing understanding of her present and possible future, she often comes across as one-dimensional as she fails to venture far from the “amnesiac girl” identifier she receives in the beginning of the story.

The circumstances surrounding Miranda’s memory loss are also impossible to ignore. Or accept given the premise of the story.** (Follow the stars for a spoiler discussion.)

Readers looking for something beyond non-stop action and twists will be better served by another book. While Miranda is likable and more than capable, she always manages to come across as secondary to Noah and Peter–despite literally being the narrator of her own story–illustrating that it takes more than showing a female character doing kickass things and being tough/smart to make a strong female character. It takes depth too. Hopefully readers will get more of that in book two.

Regardless of who is taking the lead in the story, readers hoping to find an exciting read that is heavy on action and plot twists will not be disappointed here. Plus, the ending of False Memory points to even more shocks and adventure to be had in the sequel False Sight due out in 2013.

*Seriously, it’s twisty and turny fun from start to finish!

**SPOILERS AHEAD: We learn fairly early on that Miranda’s memory loss is a direct consequence of not getting her proper memory shots. The shots were altered. By her boyfriend. I kept reading the story waiting for some big reveal when I could say to myself, “Ah, I finally understand! That right there is why he changed Miranda’s shots. All is clear now.” But things never got clearer. Instead we learn that Noah absconded with Olive***, who stayed in possession of her memories, while he left Miranda stranded in a city with no memories of her life. Why? For her protection. To keep her safe. Miranda, even without any memory of her past, can induce heart-stopping panic, wield a combat staff and identify countless guns. She is great with a sword and hand-to-hand combat situations. So, let me ask you, dear readers, does this sound like a girl who needed anything done for her protection? That Noah has no other justification, no other logic is vaguely ridiculous and systematic of poor plotting. Miranda needed amnesia and this slap-dash logic on Noah’s part was somehow the best way to make that happen.

***Don’t even get me started on Olive. I’m assuming she is an Asian character between her long dark hair and almond eyes which are usually shorthand for minority character. Which is fine. Let’s talk about why the only secondary female character (who wasn’t evil) and the only minority character that I spotted (did you see others) was so quickly dispatched at the end of the story. It could easily have happened to a different character. It could easily have been skipped all together. So why, exactly, did it have to be Olive?

Possible Pairings: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison, Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Divergent by Veronica Roth, Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

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

Bitterblue: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

King Leck has been dead and gone for eight years. His deadly Grace–the preternatural ability that allowed him to influence people and control an entire kingdom–will never hurt anyone in Monsea ever again.

Crowned queen at just ten years old, Bitterblue is still haunted at eighteen by the ghastly legacy Leck left in his kingdom. Monsea is now filled with broken people and more secrets than she can begin to fathom. Trapped by the bureaucracy of running a kingdom, Bitterblue knows little of day-to-day life in Bitterblue City and even less about how to begin to repair an entire country so irreparably damaged by Leck’s reign of lies and horror.

When she begins exploring the secrets and puzzles that abound in Monsea, Bitterblue comes to understand that the key to securing her kingdom’s future is inextricably tied to understanding not just Monsea’s and Leck’s past but also her own in Bitterblue (2012) by Kristin Cashore.

Bitterblue is a companion to Cashore’s earlier novels Graceling and Fire. The story of the seven kingdoms starts in Graceling with Katsa’s story. Fire is a prequel to Graceling with Bitterblue set about eight years after the conclusion of Graceling.

Although this book is not, in many ways, the beginning of the story, Bitterblue can easily be read out of order. While the beginning of the story may be muddled or confusing , the feeling is not inappropriate given the content of Bitterblue. Certain nuances with common places and characters will be perceived differently but as with many strong novels, any of the books in the Graceling trilogy can be the beginning of your reading experience.

I have many complicated feelings about Graceling and Fire. Before starting Bitterblue, I knew it would either become my favorite of Cashore’s Graceling novels or it would be the one I liked the least. I suspected it would be the former when I saw the lovely cover (art by Natalie C. Sousa, designed by Kelly Eismann) and the stunning illustrations marking each section division in the book (illustrated by Ian Schoenherr). Upon finishing the novel, I can state without doubt that Bitterblue is easily my favorite and, in my opinion, the best of Cashore’s Graceling books.

As the title suggests, this story focuses on Bitterblue. Characters readers grew to love in Graceling do appear here with varying levels of importance to the story.* Fire‘s place in the Graceling universe is also better explained as Cashore ties the three books seamlessly together.

Cashore is at the top of her game as she conjures the complicated history and current state of Monsea. Instead of shying away from the damage created by Leck’s brutality, Cashore stares at it directly to create a complex and often painfully real kingdom with flaws, scars, and sometimes a fair bit of beauty and resilience despite Leck’s influence. (As Bitterblue learns more about the specifics of Leck’s cruelty, the novel does get heavy–not overly so and not to ill-effect. The material is often brutal and will stay with readers long after this story is told.)

While moments in both Graceling and Fire often felt anti-climactic or excessive, the entirety of Bitterblue is carefully plotted and purposefully presented. Even at more than 540 pages (hardcover, with a cast of character and additional maps to be found at the end of the story), Bitterblue never veers into the tangential or extraneous. As with the large cast of characters who all matter, every plot device is an important part of the whole here.

Cashore also makes use of a variety of motifs throughout the story including keys and ciphers. The recurring themes of literacy and storytelling also add another dimension to the narrative as characters explore the power of memory and claiming one’s past to move forward.

Both subtler and more nuanced than Cashore’s earlier novels, Bitterblue is as much its own story as the culmination of a chronicle three books in the making.

*Oh my gosh! Giddon is finally as awesome as I always knew he could be in Graceling!

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Proxy by Alex London, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, The Bride’s Farewell by Meg Rosoff, The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

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