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

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