Book Reviews

Lair of Dreams: A Review

*Lair of Dreams is the second book in Bray’s Diviners series which begins with The Diviners. As such this review contains major spoilers for book one!*

Lair of Dreams by Libba BrayEvie O’Neil’s life changed forever when she came to New York City and helped her uncle Will (curator of “The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies”) catch a supernatural killer.

Months after the Naughty John case was closed, it seems like New York has Diviners fever all thanks to Evie’s public revelation about her ability to read objects.

Evie is clinging to her fifteen minutes of fame with both hands thanks to her radio show as the “Sweetheart Seer” while other Diviners, some friends and some not, decide what to do in this new landscape where it seems everyone wants a Diviner ability–or wants something from someone who has them.

While Evie is having a pos-i-tutely grand time uptown, her friends have other problems. When Will runs off to investigate strange happenings, Jericho and his least favorite person Sam Lloyd are left behind to try and save the museum (again). Memphis and Theta aren’t  sure if they’ll ever find a space to be together while Theta’s best friend Henry walks dreams searching for his lost love, Louis.

In the midst of this turmoil, a strange sleeping sickness is weaving through Chinatown  leaving a trail of victims unable to wake from terrible dreams. Ling has walked dreams for years, but she has never seen anything like this. Ling has never had the patience for friends, much less other Diviners, but to stop the sleeping sickness Ling and the other Diviners will have to work together before it’s too late in Lair of Dreams (2015) by Libba Bray.

Lair of Dreams is the highly anticipated sequel to Bray’s stunning novel The Diviners first book in Bray’s four-book series set in 1927 New York.

Readers eagerly waiting this latest installment will not be disappointed.

Although Bray returns to familiar characters (notably Evie, of course), Lair of Dreams moves the novel in new directions as the main plot with the sleeping sickness focuses instead on Henry Dubois (one of Evie’s friends whom she met through Theta) and Ling (a character who only appeared for the briefest moment in The Diviners). Although readers will be itching to see what’s become of familiar faces, Bray quickly makes Henry and Ling’s stories just as fascinating with her signature blend of wit and storytelling.

Lair of Dreams is another dazzling installment in this sweeping historical fantasy series. Where the first book in the series introduced readers to New York City in the 1920s, this book blows that world wide open as the book moves into new neighborhoods (particularly Chinatown) and new historical details as a large part of the story involves the construction of New York City’s subway system.

Bray strikes a perfect balance between expanding old storylines and building new ones in this second installment.While it references events from The Diviners heavily, the shift in character focus helps this book remain very much its own story. Similarly, while Lair of Dreams hints at things to come in books three and four, it still delivers a contained plot from inception to resolution to make this a satisfying read on its own.

Lair of Dreams is another vibrant and thorough book done only as Libba Bray can. Truly stunning and highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Strings Attached by Judy Blundell, Born of Illusion by Teri Brown, The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison, Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George, Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Vixen by Jillian Larkin, I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga, Sabriel by Garth Nix, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Iron Cast by Destiny Soria, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters, The Stand (mini-series)

*This book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher at BEA 2015*

Book Reviews

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, In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

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

Book Reviews

Bright Young Things: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“They were all marching toward their own secret fates, and long before the next decade rolled around, each would escape in her own way–one would be famous, one would be married, and one would be dead.”

Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen1929: Cordelia Grey and Letty Larkspur are leaving their stifling Ohio town behind to seek fame and fortune in New York City. With a big voice and hopes to match, Letty knows it’s only a matter of time before she hits it big in the biggest city of all. Cordelia is seeking other things–things she can’t even tell her best friend Letty without looking like a fool–even if Cordelia knows her future is in New York.

Along the way to their dreams the girls will face hardships and separation. They’ll meet cads and swells. One of them will even take up with one of New York’s elite flappers–a girl named Astrid Donal.

Everyone comes to New York expecting big things. But Cordelia and Letty will both have to make hard choices to get everything they want while the Jazz Age is still raging in Bright Young Things (2010) by Anna Godbersen.

Bright Young Things is the first book in Godbersen’s 1920s series. It is followed by Beautiful Days and The Lucky Ones. (Godbersen is also the author of the bestselling Luxe series.)

I love historical fiction. Show me a book set anywhere between 1900 and 1940 and there is a 99% chance that I will want to read it. I especially love the 1920s and flappers. (I even wrote a research paper in high school about 1920s fashion. But that’s another story.) My point in sharing all of this? I am pretty well-read when it comes to 1920s–fashion, social mores, history.

What does that have to do with Bright Young Things? It’s part of why I didn’t like it more. I wanted to love this book and I wanted to be excited about the series. But after reading so many other books set in the period the plot and setting started to feel very familiar.

Most of the characters in Bright Young Things are privileged; they have money, they have status, they get what they want. They’re careless like Tom and Daisy Buchanan. And that is great if you want to re-live the frenzy and decadence of The Great Gatsby. But if you want more nuance or something new, well, that isn’t going to be found in Bright Young Things as it treads familiar themes with the decadence of the 1920s, the thrill of speakeasies and the danger of falling for the wrong boy.

My favorite parts of the story were when Letty struck out on her own and found work as a cigarette girl–something I never read about–which was fascinating and ended all too soon. Besides Letty the other characters felt painfully vapid and superficial.

Godbersen lays all of the groundwork for the series with the sprawling prologue and introduction of characters who will be key later in the story. But I never felt excited enough while reading Bright Young Things to feel any urgency in continuing with the series (if I ever will).

This would be a great introductory read for anyone hoping to start reading historical fiction in general or about the 1920s specifically. If you already know about the period and want to move beyond the basics I’d suggest The Diviners by Libba Bray which delves deeper into a variety of areas during the decade albeit in the midst of a supernatural murder investigation.

Possible Pairings: The Diviners by Libba Bray, What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson, New York City: A Short History by George J. Lankevich, Vixen by Jillian Larkin, Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Book Reviews

The Diviners: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Diviners by Libba BrayEvie O’Neill is thrilled when she is forced to leave her small hometown in disgrace. Sure, her parents are disappointed and her friends don’t know what to make of her strange party tricks. But that doesn’t matter because Evie is headed to New York City where she is pos-i-toot-ly going to have the best time.

But before Evie can start exploring all of the shops (and speakeasies!) that the city has to offer a flapper looking for a good time, she has to deal with her bachelor uncle. As curator of the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult (“The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies” to locals) Uncle Will has his own ideas about how Evie should conduct herself while in his care. Between Will’s taciturn assistant, Jericho, and his work at the museum, living with her Uncle is not what Evie expected.

New friends, dashing pickpockets, and giggle water aren’t enough to distract Evie from the strange things happening throughout New York. Grisly murders with ties to the occult leave the police stumped. When Will is asked to serve as a consultant, Evie thinks she might have a way to help catch the killer–if he doesn’t find her first.

Strange times are coming. A time where the natural order of things is threatened by very unnatural forces and people with special talents, like Evie, might be able to help. Evie is ready to help investigate a killer. But what if murder is just the beginning in The Diviners (2012) by Libba Bray?

The Diviners is the first book in Bray’s new four-book series set in 1926 New York.

With a keen eye for detail and authenticity, Bray brings Evie’s roaring world to vivid life. With spooky villains and a spunky heroine, this book is filled with everything fans of the flapper era will love. Bray makes her writing seem effortless as she easily evokes both the mood and landscape of the 1920s with her own unique touches.

The Diviners is a sprawling thriller sure to give you chills. At 578 pages (hardcover) there is no way to get around the fact that this is a long book filled with Bray’s signature rich writing. This isn’t a quick read but it is one that pays off in the end. Filled with multiple perspectives and a large cast of characters, The Diviners weaves together several story lines and unlikely companions as the plot moves forward revealing tantalizing details about each character as well as future installments in the series.

Being the first book in a series some questions remain unanswered with new ones raised for later in the series. That said, the story here easily stands on its own once you’re ready to commit to such a hefty tome. Haunting and thrilling The Diviners is sure to please.

Possible Pairings: Strings Attached by Judy Blundell, Born of Illusion by Teri Brown, The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison, Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George, Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Vixen by Jillian Larkin, I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga, Sabriel by Garth Nix, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Iron Cast by Destiny Soria, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters, The Stand (mini-series)

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

Exclusive Bonus Content: Be sure to check out the spiffy Diviners website to see info about many of the book’s characters, the series, as well as the super creepy trailer.

Book Reviews

Ingenue: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Ingenue by Jillian LarkinGloria Carmody had to leave Chicago in a hurry after killing a mobster. She hoped to find a new start in New York City with Jerome Johnson. But a white woman loving a black man is just as hard in New York as it was in Chicago. Love aside, living in New York is much harder without the Carmody money supporting her.

Vera Johnson knows Gloria and her brother Jerome left Chicago for good reason. But when trouble threatens to follow them to New York will Vera be able to warn them both before it’s too late?

Lorraine Dyer is reader for a fresh start of her own in New York. One short summer is all that stands between her and a clean slate at Barnard. But before she can forget about her less than glamorous departure from Chicago society, Lorraine needs to mete out some justice. Gloria was supposed to be her best friend. Instead she abandoned Lorraine and let her be humiliated. In public. It’s only fair that Lorraine help give Gloria what she has coming to her.

Following her boyfriend Marcus Eastman to New York seemed like the perfect idea. Clara Knowles was sure it would help cement her new life leaving her flapper days far behind. But when a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity draws her back to glittering world of booze and flappers, Clara isn’t sure she can walk away again.

A new city. A new life. Everyone is trying to get away from their past. But sometimes life won’t let you forget a thing in Ingenue (2011) by Jillian Larkin.

Ingenue is the second book in The Flappers series which started last year with Vixen. (The series will conclude in 2012 with Diva.)

Much like the blase parties Clara observes upon her return to New York City, the latest installment in this series has lost some of its luster.

While the plot moved logically here building on the events of the first book, the characters did not. A lot of their behaviors felt contrived, especially Clara who went abruptly  from reading a lot to fervently wanting to a writer. And then became kind of selfish about it besides. It was also disappointing to see Lorraine once again being so sorely abused. (She is either a much abused heroine or the most sympathetic villain in the entire world–which one she is will hopefully be determined once and for all in Diva.)

With none of the characters actually seeing each other until the last hundred or so pages of the novel, the alternating chapters following each heroine just feel choppy and disjointed. Combined with the numerous missed connections between Vera and Gloria the book started to feel very forced.

Ingenue is a decent installment and a fine bridge to the conclusion of the trilogy. It just was not, sadly, quite as brilliant as the first book in the series.

Possible Pairings: Strings Attached by Judy Blundell, Flappers and Philosophers by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher, Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen, The Luxe by Anna Godbersen, The Sheik by Edith Hull, Bowery Girl by Kim Taylor

Exclusive Bonus Content: The titles of these books are annoying me. I really think they should have been reversed and the first book should have been called Ingenue since Gloria really was new to the flapper world and everything in the first book. Vixen, to me, is a much more fitting title for this second volume. At least the third title (Diva) sounds like it will be appropriate.

Book Reviews

Vixen: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Vixen by Jillian LarkinGloria Carmody thought she had everything she could want: the big diamond, the handsome fiance, the promise of a secure, respectable life among Chicago’s high society. But as her wedding looms ever nearer all Gloria can think of is a notorious speakeasy and the piano player who intrigues her more than her fiance ever has. Or will.

Lorraine Dyer doesn’t understand the sudden change in her best friend, but if Gloria wants to release her inner flapper, why not? After all Lorraine is known for innovating the flapper style among their circle of friends. She’s also known for some less flattering attributes like being brash. And perhaps being a bit indiscreet with her flask. But isn’t that what the Roaring Twenties are all about? Maybe Gloria’s dive into the world of flappers and speakeasies will mean Lorraine can finally shine on her own.

Gloria’s cousin, Clara Knowles, knows more than her share about being a flapper. A lot more. But with the threat of reform school and her reputation in tatters, Clara is sent to Chicago to help plan Gloria’s wedding. It isn’t glamorous or particularly fun. But maybe starting over in a new city is just what she needs to leave her sordid past far behind for once and for all.

It’s 1923. Prohibition has driven drinking underground, women are cutting their hair and raising their hemlines, life is a party and everyone is ready to have some fun. For three young women in Chicago the world is full of possibilities if they’re ready to take a chance in Vixen (2010) by Jillian Larkin.

Vixen is the first book in Larkin’s series The Flappers.

Published in December 2010, it will inevitably be compared to Anna Godbersen’s widely anticipated Bright Young Things released in October 2010. Don’t let the similarities fool you, Vixen stands on its own two feet.

The story is told in chapters alternating viewpoints between Gloria, Lorraine and  Clara. The narratives shift and twist with each character’s experiences but ultimately come together to create a poignant, exciting story. The combined perspectives add depth to the story, especially for Lorraine and Clara who spend most of the story tragically misunderstood by a lot of the other characters, not to mention by each other.

Here is an effervescent story that captures essence of the 1920s in book form. Larkin blends fashion, historical detail and vivid writing to create an original story that evokes not only the exuberance of life in the 1920s but also the confusion felt by women, particularly her three heroines, as they struggle with what it means to be a free-spirited flapper after growing up in the straight-laced world of the 1910s.

Vixen is strikingly authentic with fun slang, engaging characters and an exciting story that will leave readers guessing until the sensational conclusion. This book also has a stunning cover by Zhang Jingna.

Gloria, Lorraine and Clara’s story continues in Ingenue.

Possible Pairings: What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Flappers and Philosophers by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher, Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen, The Luxe by Anna Godbersen, The Sheik by Edith Hull, Bowery Girl by Kim Taylor, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, Heroes and Thieves by Vanessa Carlton (CD)

Exclusive Bonus Content: I cannot say too much but I really loved Lorraine. Clara might have been the most well-rounded character but Lorraine is a spitfire with a heart of gold–even if no one knows it. I hope everyone appreciates her more in the second book.