Muse of Nightmares: A Review

“It turned out that sometimes it’s enough to start doing thing differently now.”

Everything was taken from the city of Weep when the Mesarthim invaded. The blue-skinned gods stole the city’s children, its memories, and even its true names. No one knows where the gods came from. No one knows what happened to the thousands of children born in the citadel never to be seen again. No one speaks of what happened to the children left in the nursery the day that the Godslayer killed the gods and reclaimed the city.

Sarai was one of those children. She and the four other godspawn don’t speak of what happened either although they are haunted by the bloodshed of the massacre. No one knows that five children survived and still hide within the citadel. Waiting. Minya, the eldest, prepares for war while Sarai and the others dare to hope for acceptance.

Sarai never expected that she would die waiting–especially not after she met Lazlo Strange and saw that peace might be possible. Now Sarai is a ghost bound by Minya’s by iron will while Lazlo is a god–as much a child of the Mesarthim as Sarai and the others.

With Sarai unable to defy Minya or exist without her, Lazlo faces a horrible choice: Keep his love alive by helping Minya seek vengeance or protect the city while losing Sarai. Without her free will, without her moths traveling down to Weep to explore dreams, Sarai feels powerless. Is it possible for her to still be the muse of nightmares or did her powers die when her body did?

Old secrets and unanswered questions threaten the tentative bonds and even more fragile hope as Weep tries to heal. In a city where heroes had to do monstrous things and monsters might yet become heroes, Sarai will have to choose if she wants to slay her enemies or try to save them in Muse of Nightmares (2018) by Laini Taylor.

Muse of Nightmares is the conclusion of Taylor’s latest duology which begins with Strange the Dreamer.

I only started to truly love Strange the Dreamer months after reading it. I needed that long to process and appreciate everything Taylor had done. In contrast Muse of Nightmares was one of my most anticipated Fall 2018 releases and is holding strong as one of my favorite books of the year.

Muse of Nightmares picks up almost immediately where Strange the Dreamer left off as both Sarai and Lazlo try to grasp their dramatically changed circumstances.There isn’t time for grief or wonder, however, as Sarai and Lazlo have to figure out if there is a way to save both Weep and the godspawn.

The pacing of this story and its numerous surprises are flawless complete with a secondary story that artfully ties into the main arc of this duology. Of course, I can’t tell you too much about that because I want you to be just as shocked as I was when I started to understand how these pieces would come together.

Muse of Nightmares is a story about redemption and hope–things that all of the characters strive for and things that even the unlikeliest among them might find. Weep is a city filled with potential and, ultimately, with love as Taylor’s memorable characters learn how to forgive each other and themselves. Highly recommended. I can’t wait to see what Taylor does next.

Possible Pairings: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, The Reader by Traci Chee, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Lirael by Garth Nix, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater, The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

Strange the Dreamer: A Review

“He’d sooner die trying to hold the world on his shoulders than running away. Better, always, to run toward.”

No one knows what happened in Weep two hundred years ago to isolate the wondrous city from the rest of the world.

Lazlo Strange has been obsessed with Weep since he felt the city’s true name stripped from his mind when he was five years old. Now he spends every free moment tracking down what clues he can about the city as it once was and hints to what might have transpired there.

Unlikely as it may be for a war orphan turned into a lowly junior librarian, Lazlo’s greatest dream is to visit Weep and see its wonders with his own eyes. He knows such opportunities, such legends, are more suitable to men like Thyon Nero–a scholar renowned through the land for his alchemical wonders–but that does little to tamp down his hope. Lazlo is a dreamer who survives on a steady diet of magic and fairy tales. To deny the possibility of either in his own small life is unthinkable.

When an unexpected caravan led by Eril-Fane, the Godslayer, arrives Lazlo has to embrace his dream and strive for the impossible: not just the chance to see the Unseen City for himself but possibly the chance to save it.

The city is more than even Lazlo could have expected filled with wonders and horrors in equal measure. The city is still haunted by the centuries long legacy of war and terror under the Mesarthium–blue-skinned gods who came down from the sky when the city was still whole.

There are problems to solve in Weep and answers to find. But as Lazlo explores his dream city, he realizes there are also more questions as his own dreamscape becomes something he doesn’t recognize with moments that are strikingly, vividly real, and a blue-skinned goddess who seems nothing like the terror he’s heard about from the Godslayer.

In a world where the old gods are dead and dreams have weight, Lazlo will have to decide what he wants to protect and what he’s willing to lose in Strange the Dreamer (2017) by Laini Taylor. Welcome to Weep.

Strange the Dreamer is the first book in Taylor’s latest duology which will continue in The Muse of Nightmares. While this story is very obviously unfinished (the last line of the novel is “Because this story was not over yet.”) Strange the Dreamer does provide a partially contained arc in terms of Lazlo’s journey and growth as he comes into his own upon arriving in Weep.

Through Weep and its history Strange the Dreamer artfully explores themes of forgiveness and recovery as both Lazlo and the rest of Weep struggle to determine next steps for the wounded but healing city. The imagined city of Weep is evocative and vibrant with distinct customs, landscapes, and even language. The use of language is demonstrated especially well with the words in Weep’s native language used to start each section of the novel.

Taylor builds drama that remains taut from the opening prologue until the very last page. Written with an omniscient third person point of view this story is very self-aware and encompasses numerous points of view. This narrative structure and the tone of the novel are deliberately reminiscent of the fairy tales that Lazlo so richly loves and serve to underscore the fairy tale nature of Strange the Dreamer where magic continuously appears in seemingly mundane and unexpected places.

Strange the Dreamer is a captivating fantasy sure to appeal to readers looking for an intricate and unique story. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, The Reader by Traci Chee, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Lirael by Garth Nix, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater, The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

Places No One Knows: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“I start, because if I don’t, then everything just stays the same.”

“I thought he made me a different person altogether, but maybe I was always holding those pieces inside me, waiting for a chance to use them.”

Waverly Camdenmar doesn’t sleep. She runs instead going as fast and as far as her legs will allow until she can’t think and the only option is collapse. Then the sun comes up, she pastes on her best face, and pretends everything is normal. It’s easy to hide behind her academic achievements and the popularity her best friend Maribeth so covets.

Marshall Holt is too apathetic to pretend anything is normal in his life or even remotely okay. Neither has been true about his family or his life for quite some time. He doesn’t care because he’s busy trying to lose himself in the oblivion of drinking too much, smoking too much, and making too many bad decisions. It’s been working great so far except for the whole maybe not graduating thing.

Waverly and Marshall are used to watching each other from afar–a little wary and a little hungry–but never anything more. Not until Waverly’s attempt at deep relaxation dreams her into Marshall’s bedroom and everything changes.

Now when the sun comes up Waverly’s carefully ordered world is stifling instead of safe. After years of trying not to feel anything, Marshall is feeling far too much. Waverly and Marshall thought they knew exactly who they were and who they could be. Now neither of them is sure what that means in Places No One Knows (2016) by Brenna Yovanoff.

Yovanoff’s latest standalone novel is a razor sharp blend of contemporary and magic realism alternating between Waverly and Marshall’s first person narration. This character driven novel focuses on the ways their two personalities clash and intersect throughout their strange encounters.

Waverly is analytical and pragmatic. She knows that she is the smartest person in the room and she doesn’t care if that makes her threatening. Her sometime friends describe Waverly as a sociopath or a robot and she feels like she should care about that but it also seems to require too much effort.

Marshall, by contrast, is hyper-sensitive and philosophical and impractical. He doesn’t want to care about the way his family is falling apart or the way everything else in his life is crumbling. But he does care. A lot. And it’s wrecking him.

At its core Places No One Knows is a story about how two people engage with each other and also the greater world. Yovanoff’s writing is flawless with deliberate structure and scathing commentary both as a whole and on a sentence-by-sentence level. This story subverts gender roles and societal norms all in the guise of a slightly unconventional love story.

Places No One Knows is an excellent novel filled with fascinating characters. Although Waverly and Marshall’s relationship is a centerpiece of the story both characters also have their own stories to tell and their own journeys to make, which sometimes mirror each other and sometimes diverge, as they struggle to make the active choice to save themselves.

Possible Pairings: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, All the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry, One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Break Me Like a Promise by Tiffany Schmidt, All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater, American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Little Bot and Sparrow: A Picture Book Review

Little Bot and Sparrow by Jake ParkerWhen Little Bot is thrown out with the trash, he discovers a strange new world ready to explore.

Sparrow soon takes Little Bot under her wing and teaches him important lessons including why robots should not fly.

When the snow begins to fall, both Little Bot and Sparrow know that it’s time for Sparrow to move on with the other birds. But even when Sparrow is gone Little Bot knows he has found his first friend. Thanks to Sparrow, Little Bot also has his first dream in Little Bot and Sparrow (2016) by Jake Parker.

Everything about this book is thoughtfully assembled from the case covers (featuring schematic sketches of Bot and Sparrow) to the endpapers and the story itself. Parker’s artwork is subtle and finely detailed while also being quite evocative of the mood. Whimsical, full-color illustrations and finely detailed backgrounds help to ground Little Bot and Sparrow, both sweetly drawn, in their surroundings.

The text hits the perfect balance length-wise for younger readers. This picture book would be great to include in a themed story time for unlikely friends or robots (or both!).

Little Bot and Sparrow is a charming story about discovering the big world and making friends complete with an open-ended and hopeful finish that hints at things to come for Little Bot.

Possible Pairings: Little Eliot, Big City by Mike Curato; Clink by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Matthew Myers; Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration from the publisher at BEA 2016*

Dreamology: A Review

Dreamology by Lucy KeatingAlice has been meeting Max in her dreams for as long as she can remember. Every night they travel through the dream world having adventures together. Alice is madly in love with Max, after all he is her dream boy.

But that’s the problem too. Max doesn’t actually exist.

At least not until Alice and her father move to Boston and Alice finds Max at her new school. Unfortunately Real Max isn’t at all like Dream Max. He claims he doesn’t know Alice and that he wants nothing to do with her.

While Alice is desperately avoiding Real Max she and Dream Max are still having beautiful dreams together. But something is wrong in their dreams too. As elements of their dreams start to appear in their waking lives, Alice and Max realize that their dreams might be ending all too soon in Dreamology (2016) by Lucy Keating.

Dreamology is Keating’s first novel.

Alice narrates this story in first person including dream sequences and her day-to-day life. While the dream sequences add a strong dose of silliness, Alice is still dealing with pent up feelings from her mother’s abandonment years ago. She and her father are still working out how they work as a family of two (two and a half with their dog).

Although she is often naive to the point of rashness, Alice is an endearing heroine with an authentic voice and problems that will be relatable (and seem surmountable) to teen readers.

There is no way around it: the premise here is kind of wacky. Readers able to provide a willing suspension of disbelief will enjoy this funny story where dreams blend with reality and romance transcends both. Dreamology is a quick diversion with a sweet romance and a nice touch of humor.

Possible Pairings: Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, I Woke Up Dead at the Mall by Judy Sheehan, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

 

The Girl Who Could Not Dream: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth DurstSophie has always loved her parents’ secret shop, the one hidden below their book shop, where dreams are bought and sold. The business of distilling, bottling and sorting dreams has always been fascinating to Sophie, especially since she never has dreams of her own.

When the dream shop is robbed and her parents go missing, Sophie will have to follow the clues to try and save them. With her best friend–a snarky monster named Monster–at her side, Sophie will have to decide who she can trust and who she can ask for help in order to protect her family and their secrets in The Girl Who Could Not Dream (2015) by Sarah Beth Durst.

The Girl Who Could Not Dream has a carefully executed fantasy system that makes sense for the plot and also immediately draws readers into the story. Durst expertly evokes the dream shop run by Sophie’s parents as well as the complex distillation process. Moments of humor and often improbably creatures (ninja bunnies!) blend well with genuinely scary nightmares as Sophie follows the trail to her missing parents.

Sophie is a determined protagonist even as she struggles with trying to make new friends and keeping her family’s secrets. Along the way Sophie also gets help from equally entertaining characters including Monster (her best friend) and Ethan, a classmate who suffers from terrifying nightmares.

The Girl Who Could Not Dream is a charming fantasy novel perfect for readers of all ages. Highly recommended for readers who like their thrills and chills tempered with some good laughs.

Possible Pairings: A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine, A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu, The Year of Shadows by Claire Legrand, Mister Monday by Garth Nix

*An advance copy of this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2015*

Be sure to check out my interview with Sarah about this novel!

Dreamstrider: A (Rapid Fire) Review

Dreamstrider by Lindsay Smith (2015)

Dreamstrider by Lindsay SmithLivia is the only dreamstrider in the Barstadt Empire. Thanks to her special ability to travel into Oneiros, the dream world, Livia can inhabit the bodies of others and access their memories. Both of which make her uniquely suited to work as a spy for her country. Livia’s work also gives her the chance to earn her freedom and leave her past as a lower-class tunnel dweller behind. But trouble is lurking and with only her partner Brandt by her side, Livia is uncertain who she can trust as the stakes climb higher.

Dreamstrider is Smith’s third novel and a standalone fantasy adventure.

There is a lot to like in this novel. Smith delivers a high-octane novel filled with action, spies, intrigue, and more action. From the prologue on the story is fast-paced with a sense of urgency even before the main plot gets rolling. In terms of creating tension and urging the reader on, Dreamstrider is an absolute winner.

The premise here is also fascinating. Unfortunately, because of the action! and the urgency! throughout the story, many aspects of Livia’s world are never properly explained. Why is Livia the only dreamstrider in Barsadt? How can other people show her the world of Oneiros but not do what she does? What kind of world is it that readers are visiting in this novel? All of those questions are answered in only superficial ways throughout the narrative. While moments are evocative and strong, the world building never feels entirely cohesive or complete despite Smith’s obvious vision and utterly original fantasy elements.

Another downside of the story starting so fast and the action being so relentless is that it’s often hard to get to know Livia and the other characters in the novel or to understand their motivations.

Readers who are able to go along with the basic conceits of the novel without too many questions will be rewarded with a thrilling spy story unlike anything else.

Dreamstrider is a solid spy fantasy that has a lot of unique qualities. It is guaranteed to appeal to readers who like their stories more action-driven than character-driven as well as fans of supernatural espionage, fantasy with a faith-based element (as Barsadt holds dreams sacred), as well as readers who like stories about the dream world. Fans of The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson or The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O’Brien should take special note and pick up this title.

*A copy this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration*