The Screaming Staircase: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Of the first few hauntings I investigated with Lockwood & Co. I intend to say little, in part to protect the identity of the victims, in part because of the gruesome nature of the incidents but mainly because, in a variety of ingenious ways, we succeeded in messing them all up.”

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan StroudLucy Carlyle has been working for Psychic Investigation Agencies since she was eight years old. Like many children born after the Problem, Lucy’s psychic abilities are highly valued as only children are able to see the ghosts that plague England. Unlike many others, some of Lucy’s abilities are highly developed. This increased sense should guarantee Lucy a successful career.

Instead Lucy arrives in London with no job and no references. Lucy’s prospects are less-than-promising until she takes up with Lockwood & Co.

Unlike most agencies, Lockwood & Co. does not employ adults (who can no longer see ghosts) as supervisors. Instead the agency is run jointly by its operatives Anthony Lockwood, George Cubbins and–often much to her own surprise–Lucy. Unfortunately being a small agency with no clout to speak of, Lockwood & Co. has difficulties both with finding and keeping clients.

After a particularly disastrous case, Lockwood & Co. are faced with the imminent failure of their fledgling agency unless they accept a case clearing one of the most haunted houses in London of its malevolent spirits in The Screaming Staircase (2013) by Jonathan Stroud.

The Screaming Staircase is the first book in Stroud’s Lockwood & Co. series.

The Screaming Staircase is a delightful book with the perfect balance of laughs and scares. Lucy’s narration is conversational and candid as she reveals the difficulties that face Lockwood & Co. as well as events from her own past that brought Lucy to London.

All three members of Lockwood & Co. are memorable characters. While George is studious, cautious and fiercely loyal, Lucy is more impetuous but also more instinctively connected to many of the ghosts that they meet during the story. Lockwood, meanwhile, is a largely aloof leader with loads of charm and an investigative style akin to Sherlock Holmes.

Not one but two mysteries unfold in this novel as Lucy works with Lockwood and George to solve cases involving violent hauntings. While key clues are withheld (or more accurately glossed over) the pieces still come together in a logical conclusion that readers will be able to piece together along with the characters.

The Screaming Staircase is a marvelous blend of mystery, humor and suspense with spine-tingling ghosts and very well-executed world building. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings:  Gideon the Cutpurse by Linda Buckley-Archer, Knightley and Son by Rohan Gavin, Constable & Toop by Gareth P. Jones, Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy, Death Cloud by Andrew Lane, Jackaby by William R. Ritter, Lily’s Ghosts by Laura Ruby, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

*A copy of this book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher at BEA 2013*

The Accidental Highwayman: A Review

The Accidental Highwayman by Ben TrippIn eighteenth century Christopher “Kit” Bristol thinks he has finally found legitimate and respectable work as a gentleman’s gentleman. Yes, he sometimes misses his dramatic life working in a traveling show. Of course riding an old mare into town for errands can’t compare to riding a fine horse in a ring for trick spectacles. But Kit has left that life behind. He is a servant now with stable work in a lovely manor. It matters little that the manor is largely on the brink of falling apart.

Unfortunately, Kit’s visions of grandeur and legitimacy are rudely shattered one night when he learns that his master’s odd habits are hiding a secret. Kit has unknowingly been working for Whistling Jack–a notorious highwayman who is wanted by both the authorities and other, far more dangerous, foes.

In a fit of loyalty, Kit dons his master’s clothes hoping to buy Whistling Jack precious time after the highwayman is gravely injured. The deed is futile. It also drags Kit into the middle of his master’s unfinished quest–a fantastical mission that Kit is ill-prepared to complete.

Tasked with stopping the marriage of King George III to a fairy princess named Morgana, Kit will have to plumb the depths of his ingenuity and search for unlikely allies if he hopes to survive let alone succeed in The Accidental Highwayman: Being the Tale of Kit Bristol, His Horse Midnight, a Mysterious Princess, and Sundry Magical Persons Besides
(2014) by Ben Tripp.

The Accidental Highwayman is Tripp’s first novel for young adults. It also includes delightful illustrations by the author.

This book is an enjoyable fantasy romp complete with fairies, goblings (not to be confused with goblins!) and a fair bit of whimsy. Tripp does an excellent job of combing a historical fiction sensibility with a fantasy story to create a new type of fairytale with an 18th century background. Tripp’s illustrations also add to the playful quality of the story.

Although sometimes predictable, The Accidental Highwayman is a solid fantasy adventure that will appeal to readers looking for action as much as they are humor or romance. This rollicking story is but the first in an anticipated series that promises numerous adventures for both Kit and Morgana.

Thanks to Esther Bochner at MacMillan, you can also check out a clip from the audiobook of The Accidental Highwayman, narrated by Steve West:

Possible Pairings: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Stardust by Neil Gaiman, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix, The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynn Jones, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherine Valente, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde, Candide by Voltaire, Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

A Spy in the House: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y. S. LeeMary Quinn is twelve-years-old when she is arrested for theft and sentenced to hang in London in 1853.

Rescued from the gallows, Mary receives an extraordinary offer of an education and proper upbringing at Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls. Hidden behind the cover of a finishing school, The Agency works as an all-female investigative unit.

Five years later, with her training nearly complete, Mary is offered her first assignment working undercover as a lady’s companion. Stationed in a rich merchant’s home, Mary is tasked with helping along the investigation into missing cargo ships.

As Mary delves deeper into her investigation she soon discovers that everyone in the household is hiding something in A Spy in the House (2010) by Y. S. Lee.

A Spy in the House is Lee’s first novel. It is also the start of The Agency series (and consequently sometimes referred to as The Agency–by me at least).

Lee presents a well-researched, thoroughly engrossing mystery here. A Spy in the House evokes the gritty and glamorous parts of 1850s London with pitch-perfect descriptions. The dialog also feels true to the period with no jarring, obviously modern, turns of phrase.

The story is filled with twists and also some very smart observations about race, feminism and what being a woman with agency might have looked like in 1850s London. Although the ending is a bit rushed there is still an ideal balance between closure and hints of what to expect in future installments. The resolution is quite surprising in a way that is especially satisfying for a Victorian mystery.

Mary is a capable, pragmatic heroine who is as smart as she is endearing. With just a hint of romantic flirtation that is realistic and witty (and decidedly lacking in instant love), A Spy in the House

Possible Pairings:  I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter, The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist: Flight of the Phoenix by R. L. LaFevers with illustrations by Kelly Murphy,  Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson

Death Cloud: A Review

Death Cloud by Andew LaneDeath Cloud by Andrew Lane (2010)

Summer 1868: After an interminable year away at boarding school, fourteen-year-old Sherlock Holmes is eager to return to the family home where he can explore to his heart’s content and see his father and mother. Sherlock is crushed when his older brother Mycroft instead tells Sherlock he will be staying with distant relatives in Hampshire.

Dismayed at this horrible turn of events, Sherlock is prepared for a terrible summer. Then he meets a drifter about his own age named Matty Arnett as well as an unconventional tutor named Amyus Crowe. Together the trio are soon drawn into a mystery involving a dead body, noxious gasses and–strangest of all–a cloud that seems to move with purpose.

Death Cloud is the first book in Lane’s Young Sherlock Holmes series.

Mystery fans and fans of the worlds greatest detective will all find something to enjoy in this action-packed adventure. Lane gains momentum throughout the narrative seemingly becoming more comfortable with writing about this famous character as the story progresses. Much in the grand tradition of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original novels, Lane offers a madcap mystery with imaginative devices and a villain that will likely follow young Sherlock throughout the series.

Lane also offers nods to what seasoned readers know lies in store for Sherlock as well as new insights into how Crowe, Shelock’s tutor, helped shape his deductive reasoning. In fact, the biggest problem with Death Cloud is reconciling this young boy who is observant but often also less-than-learned with the brilliant detective that has become part of the public consciousness. While some teachable moments between Sherlock and Crowe feel forced (as Lane tries to use what Sherlock doesn’t know to anticipate that which younger readers may not know) the story and characters come together nicely here.

Death Cloud is an approachable, engaging mystery that will appeal to readers (and Sherlock fans) of all ages.

Possible Pairings:  Gideon the Cutpurse by Linda Buckley-Archer, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy, Jackaby by William Ritter, The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Rose Under Fire: A Chick Lit Wednesday

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth WeinRose Justice is a poet and a pilot. Even though she has hours and hours more flight time compared to many male pilots, Rose finds herself working as an ATA pilot transporting planes that other (men) fighter pilots will eventually use.

Rose is an American with high ideals who wants to help. The war is terrifying, much worse than she ever could have imagined back home in Pennsylvania, but doesn’t that make it even more important that Rose help however she can?

Her course changes abruptly when a routine transport goes horrible wrong and Rose is captured by Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück–a notorious women’s concentration camp.

In the camp Rose finds unimaginable horrors and obstacles but also small moments of hope through the kinship and bravery of her fellow prisoners. Even as friendships are forged amidst small moments of resistance, Rose and her friends are unsure who among them will make it out of Ravensbrück alive in Rose Under Fire (2013) by Elizabeth Wein.

Rose Under Fire is a companion to Wein’s novel Code Name Verity and set about one and a half years later. Rose Under Fire is completely self-contained but readers of both will recognize familiar characters.

Like its companion, Rose Under Fire is an epistolary novel told primarily from Rose’s journal. Snippets of famous poems (notably from Edna St. Vincent Millay) are included as well as poems Rose writes throughout her time in England and Ravensbrück.

Although this novel doesn’t have the same level of suspense as Code Name Verity it remains extremely well-plotted and poignant. And that is really all that can be said about the plot without revealing too much.

Wein once again delivers a powerhouse novel about World War II in this case shining a light onto the atrocities of the Ravensbrück concentration camp while highlighting the strength and persistence of the women who were imprisoned there.

As you might have guessed, Rose Under Fire is an incredibly hard read. The novel looks unflinchingly at the heinous “experiments” Nazi doctors committed against the Polish political prisoners known as “rabbits” from their time in Ravensbrück to the war trials in Nuremburg. While the story is important and powerful, it is not to be taken lightly and readers should be mindful of that before they pick it up.

Readers who are up to the task of a difficult read with darker subject matter will find a powerful story in Rose Under Fire with an incredibly strong and inspiring heroine at the center of its story.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie,  A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Tamar by Mal Peet, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

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

The Geography of You and Me: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. SmithLucy and Owen meet in an elevator trapped between the tenth and eleventh floors of a New York City highrise during a citywide blackout. What could have been an ordinary night spent alone in the dark becomes a shared moment of wonder for Lucy and Owen. Together they explore a Manhattan that looks more like a party than a crisis before admiring the shockingly bright stars over Manhattan’s skyline.

But after that one magical night, Lucy and Owen find themselves pulled in opposite directions. Literally. Owen and his father head for points west while Lucy and her parents move to Edinburgh.

Lucy and Owen don’t have a lot in common to start with. They don’t even know much about each other. Still their relationship plays out across the miles in the form of postcards and sporadic emails. Although both Lucy and Owen try to move on they soon realize an unfinished something keeps pulling them back to each other in The Geography of You and Me (2014) by Jennifer E. Smith.

The Geography of You and Me is a delightful story of an unlikely long-distance relationship and an ode to the joys of travel and old-fashioned correspondence. Smith brings the wonder and frustrations of a New York blackout delightfully to life in the opening pages. The evocative prose just gets better from there as readers travel across the country with Owen and across the Atlantic with Lucy.

The story alternates between Lucy and Owen’s perspective to offer insights not just into their correspondence but also into the relationships both have with their parents. As much as The Geography of You and Me is a romance it is also an anthem for family and communication. With Lucy coming from a well-to-do family and Owen being on the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum, there are also some interesting moments about privilege and what that can mean in modern life.

Smith offers nods to social networking and emails while also hearkening back to the simpler and often more sincere communications found in postcards. It is highly likely readers will seek a new pen pal or join Post Crossing after finishing this cheerfully well-traveled novel.

Possible Pairings: I Remember You by Cathleen Davitt Bell, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, All I Need by Susane Colasanti, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers by Lynn Weingarten, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

More Than This: A Review

More Than This by Patrick NessAt the beginning there is just a boy drowning. He tries to fight against the water, the current and the waves, in those last moments he really does fight. But the water is harder and, eventually, it wins.

The boy dies.

That should be the end but somehow it isn’t.

There is more.

The boy wakes up half naked and exhausted–hungry and thirsty in a neighborhood that is at once familiar and other. Everything is abandoned. The boy is alone. Except is any of that really true? The boy can’t be sure when even being dead seems uncertain now. Exploring this new landscape the boy will delve into his past as well as his arduous present in order to discover what really lies ahead of him in More Than This (2013) by Patrick Ness.

Other reviewers have, fairly, suggested that this book is best enjoyed when you go into without expectations or too much knowledge of what it’s about. That is partly true as the story has quite a few shocking twists.

On the other hand, after part one More Than This almost become an entirely different book. Which is okay because for the entire first part (roughly 150 pages) we are only in the boy’s head. He is alone. He is surviving. And, honestly, that gets less interesting over time.

Ness is a critically acclaimed author with lots of shiny, well-deserved awards to his name already. The writing in More Than This is smooth and effortless. Unfortunately the writing and the plot were not enough to actually make this book particularly gripping or exciting. Flashbacks break into the present story with a jarring frequency. Although the boy is hungry and feels threatened, there never seemed to be a real sense of urgency.

The premise of More Than This is promising (even just the superficial one that gets turned upside and sideways as the book progresses) and will find an eager audience among readers who enjoy books that toe the line between life and death and ponder what might come after. The ultimate meaning behind the book’s title is also a lovely element to the story. It just, sadly, wasn’t enough to make this a standout read for me.

Possible Pairings: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Keep Holding On by Susane Colasanti, Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach,The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, Between by Jessica Warman, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey