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*

12 for 2012

It was incredibly hard to pick just twelve books for this list. (Even limiting myself to just 2012 publications was difficult as I read so many wonderful books this year.) My original list included 19 titles–all of which I did really enjoy. But, there can be only twelve (until 2013 anyway!) so, without further ado here are . . .

My Twelve Most Favorite books from 2012 (in alphabetical order):

  1. The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken: In addition to being one of my favorite books from 2012, this was also one of my most anticipated. I’m so excited that it’s finally out so everyone can start talking about it with me!
  2. The Diviners by Libba Bray: 1920s mystery/thriller with supernatural elements and romance set in New York City? There was never a chance of this one being less than a favorite for me.
  3. The Selection by Kiera Cass: One of the most surprising books I read this year. I went into it expecting something silly and unsatisfying. I got a nuanced and unlikely blend of The Bachelor TV show and The Hunger Games. I still can’t pinpoint the details but everything about this one just makes me very happy when I think about it.
  4. Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley: Another very anticipated title. Cath Crowley can do no wrong in my view. Filled with references to modern art, musings on love, multiple viewpoints, poetry and such beautiful writing. If I could bottle how I felt after finishing this book, I’d be rich.
  5. Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst: I love Sarah Beth Durst and was so happy to hear about this one. A fantasy with gods and goddesses, storytellers, tricksters, magic and a mysterious journey! And a book that manages to turn the original story upside down without ruining everything and a love rhombus? Trust me, it’s as fabulous as it sounds. (And bonus points for the diverse cast!)
  6. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman: As a reader I grew up on high fantasies. With a complex world filled with subtle language and politics (and dragons) all its own, this one fits right in with the fantasies of my childhood. The writing is beautiful and the story is exciting but I think my favorite part was Seraphina’s journey throughout the story as she learned: “We were all monsters and bastards, and we were all beautiful.”
  7. Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers: Regular readers will know of my love affair with Robin’s series for younger readers: Nathaniel Fludd: Beastologist. So when I heard she was writing a YA series I was all over it even when the series premise did not sound like my usual fare. (Assasin nuns? In Brittany? In 1485?) I was so wrong to worry. With wild machinations, a protagonist who questions authority and nods to familiar mythology by another name, this one had everything I want in a book.
  8. For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund: This book (along with #12) are probably the books of BEA 2012. Aside from being much anticipated, this one completely blew me away. A post-apocalyptic retelling of Persuasion with sci-fi elements is bound to be cool. I was so pleasantly surprised when I found it was also simply stunning.
  9. Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan: A gothic tale that flips gender roles, riffs on imaginary friends, and features a plucky girl reporter? And it’s by Sarah Rees Brennan? Enough said.
  10. The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski: I went into this one knowing nothing about the book itself or its author beyond the basics. Imagine my surprise and pleasure when I found a book about parallel universes, alternate history, and family all wrapped up in a wish by the author to write a novel similar to Pride and Prejudice with “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and art as continued motifs. Be still my heart.
  11. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater: It’s not The Scorpio Races but very little is. In a lot of ways this is a quiet start to a series but I’m so in for the rest of the quartet and learning more about Blue and Gansey. So. In.
  12. Because It Is My Blood by Gabrielle Zevin: There are few authors I love as much as Gabrielle Zevin (and not just because she recognizes me at signings sometimes!) and few series that excite me as much as her Birthright books. There is, in fact, so much I like about this series that it’s hard to distill my thoughts on this second installment for my list except to say I love the backdrop almost as much as I appreciate that the series features a romance without being about a romance.

You can also find my list on Pinterest if you want to see all of the lovely covers.

Honorable Mentions (the books that didn’t make my main list but have kept me thinking all year):

  • Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson: This might be the last book I finish in 2012. I put off reading it for a long time because I didn’t know what to expect and I think I was afraid it wouldn’t be what I wanted. But it was everything I wanted. Dimensional and beautiful and so much more than a retelling.
  • Frost by Marianna Baer: This one was a lot of fun and I’m still very sorry it didn’t go all the way in last year’s Cybils. Alas. While it doesn’t quite stand up to a really close reading it is a lot of fun with spooky twists around every corner.
  • The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron: I hardly know where to start with this one. This book completely snuck up on me but with steampunk elements and a Victorian setting it’s not surprising that it became an instant favorite.
  • Fracture by Megan Miranda: Every time I think about giving away my copy I look at the writing and realize I can’t. I loved this one and because of it’s Les Mis references I’ve been thinking about it a lot with all of the Les Miserables movie trailers turning up on TV.
  • Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood: Such a fun read! I’m so excited for the sequel and love seeing Jessica on Twitter. Definitely a deceptive cover for a book with a lot of depth. And feminism! And alternate history!
  • Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg: Eulberg is always aces in my book. Taking this one off my main list was an agonizing decision which is why it needed an honorable mention. In terms of personal moments this was also a big one since I got to interview Elizabeth Eulberg, one of my favorite authors (and imaginary BFF *cough*) about this title–and hopefully it won’t be the last time!
  • The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith: This one was a fun fast read but it really got me thinking. I feel like with lists like this there is always a bias favoring books read later in the year because, well, it’s easier to remember recent reads. That said this is one of the most effervescent books I’ve read (not just in 2012). It also easily has one of my favorite covers of 2012.

Buzzworthy Titles (the ones everyone else is talking about):

  • Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore: After having problems with the earlier books in the series, I’m still pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this one (and Giddon–though that is probably much less surprising).
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: I still haven’t read it! I know, I know. But every time I try to pick it up I remember at least one character is probably doomed and I just cant do it. Soon.
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer: Honestly I read this so long ago I forgot it was a 2012 title! I enjoyed it and I love the attention it’s getting but I’m honestly a bit surprised it had enough staying power to maintain this level of attention from its pub date to the end of the year. Then again, it’s a Cinderella retelling with cyborgs and aliens–why wouldn’t people still be talking about it?!

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.

Rebel Angels: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Rebel Angels by Libba BrayThe more Gemma Doyle learns about her visions and the magic that allows her to enter the Realms–a world beyond our own usually seen in dreams or death–the more questions she has. Gemma finally knows the truth about her mother and the mystical Order that she once belonged to . . . and helped destroy with her closest friend, Circe.

Now the magic is loose in the realms and Circe is hunting Gemma, her only way back to all of that magic. Kartik, Gemma’s mysterious shadow since leaving India, insists Gemma must bind the magic before disaster strikes. Which would be fine if Gemma had any idea how to do such a thing.

Worse, is it the Christmas season–Gemma’s first since her mother’s death. While her friends Felicity and Ann talk of balls and other wonderful plans for their time away from Spence Academy, Gemma is left to wonder what the holidays can hold at home with her strict grandmother, her irritating brother, and her feeble father.

The holiday season promises a world of distractions in the form of balls and the most intriguing form of one Simon Middleton–not to mention an introduction to the rarefied circles of high society. But Gemma has no time for distractions.

Questions will be answered, enemies will be fought, and Gemma will have to take her stand in Rebel Angels (2006) by Libba Bray.

Rebel Angels is the second book in the Gemma Doyle Trilogy (which began with A Great and Terrible Beauty). It is also one of those books where it is very clear that it is the second book in a trilogy, which is fine. The beginning of the story provides almost enough recap of earlier events to make it possible to read this book out of sequence though, as ever, many nuances would be lost that way.

While Rebel Angels is a continuation of an already exciting story, this book lacked some of the verve and spark of the first. With all of the summarizing the story starts slowly, picking up when Gemma and her friends depart from Spence for their holiday. While Gemma and Kartik evolve and change especially throughout this story, it felt like a lot of the other characters were working through the same emotions and the same problems readers saw in the first book.

That said, the second half of the book is much more exciting and faster paced than the first. Bray once again provides a vivid window into the world of 1895 London from the eyes of a heroine willing and ready to think for herself. The underlying commentary on the roles of women in Victorian England and feminism is also fascinating in a book that is ostensibly a historical fantasy.

As a whole the story is very interesting and aptly sets up the conclusion of the trilogy, of course, but Rebel Angels just lacked that little spark to set truly set it apart as a book in its own right.

Possible Pairings: The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad, Chime by Franny Billingsley, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, The Crucible by Arthur Miller, The Ruby in the Smoke by Phillip Pullman, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud, The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Grand Tour by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

Exclusive Bonus Content: Although I really didn’t like this one as much as the first (and feel really really guilty about it!), this book did make me wish more academics read YA Lit. I love that academics can study popular culture and literature, but not everyone can write scholarly books and articles about Buffy and Harry Potter. Where are the articles about the feminist underpinnings of the Gemma Doyle books? Where is the commentary on this trilogy being a reflection of the evolution of feminism from the discovery of the Problem Without a Name in The Feminine Mystique to the Second Wave feminist movement? Where is the Feminist Theory/Women’s Studies class that has this series as assigned reading? No, seriously, where is it?

The Talking Dead: A Book List

They might not always be walking, but in the books on this list the dead are always talking. Ten books, in no particular order, where the dead sometimes walk, sometimes talk, and always play a huge part in the story.

  • Generation Dead by Daniel Waters: The dead are walking in Oakvale, Connecticut–at least some of them are. No one knows why some teenagers come back and some don’t. The only certainty is that there are those in Oakvale who’d prefer to see the dead stay buried.
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher: Hannah Baker killed herself two weeks ago. There are thirteen reasons that led to her suicide. All of them are explained in the cassette tapes Clay Jensen received in the mail–including what part Clay himself played in Hannah’s death.
  • White Cat by Holly Black: Cassel Sharpe is perfectly content being the straight arrow, ordinary guy in a family of crooked curse workers. That is when he’s not being followed by a white cat that reminds him a lot of his best friend Lila–the girl he killed three years ago.
  • Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta: The people of Lumatere are scattered, some trapped inside the kingdom walls while others live as exiles, haunted by the ghosts of their tragic past. But there might be hope. It all begins ten years after the five days of the unspeakable, when Finnikin of Lumatere climbs another rock.
  • Curses, Inc. by Vivian Vande Velde: Curses are bought and sold, magic is real, and the dead walk in this eerie collection of short stories.
  • Drawing the Ocean by Carolyn MacCullough: Sadie is the new girl at school. Her brother keeps telling her to make friends. But it’s not that easy to fit in when you still talk every day to your brother who died four years ago.
  • Sabriel by Garth Nix: When her father, the Abhorsen, becomes trapped in Death Sabriel has to assume her rightful duties as the next Abhorsen and save her father, and perhaps many others, from the dead that would keep him and claim the world of the living for themselves.
  • Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier: Each full moon Jena and her sisters cross the wildwood to visit the enchanted glade of the Other Realm for a night of dancing and revelry. Everyone knows the wildwood is a dangerous place filled with witches, ghosts and all manner of other worldly creatures–and the lake that claimed Jena’s cousin years ago. But no harm can come from dancing. Or can it?
  • The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan: Libby’s older sister Kwan has yin eyes and can see the dead who dwell in the realm of Yin. At least, she says she can. When Libby travels to Kwan’s native village in China for work, Libby starts to wonder if there is more truth to Kwan’s ghost stories than she was willing to believe.
  • A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray: Gemma Doyle doesn’t want to have visions or the power to travel between this world only visible in death or dreams. But this other realm might be Gemma’s only chance to make sense of her mother’s death and her strange new powers.

A Great and Terrible Beauty: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Great and Terrible Beauty coverAll Gemma Doyle wants for her sixteenth birthday is to go to England and to see London. Though she comes from respectable English stock, Gemma has never seen the country raised instead in India where it is too hot, too dusty and entirely too boring.

Gemma does get her wish, but not the way she had hoped. Instead of a glamorous return to England with her family, Gemma is sent to an austere finishing school after her mother’s tragic death under mysterious circumstances.

Spence Academy is meant to take Gemma and the other young students and make them into ladies ready for their first Season and, more importantly, ready to become respectable wives and make good matches for their families.

But Gemma has no desire to be finished if it means never knowing what really happened to her mother or, for that matter, what’s really happening to her.

Much as she tries, Gemma isn’t like the other girls at Spence. She has her own wants that go beyond a respectable husband and a quiet life as someone’s wife. She has her own thoughts. And she sees things; things she shouldn’t be able to see, places that shouldn’t exist.

A mysterious man has followed Gemma to Spence from India telling her she must stop the visions and close her mind to her powers. But her powers are also the only way to make sense of her mother’s death. A world of magic lies at Gemma’s feet, its great and terrible beauty there for the taking. But only if Gemma is ready to choose it in A Great and Terrible Beauty (2003) by Libba Bray.

A Great and Terrible Beauty is the first book in The Gemma Doyle Trilogy.

Set in 1895, this book is a satisfying blend of historical fiction and fantasy. Gemma is very thoroughly grounded in the daily life of Spence even as she learns more about her powers and the mysteries surrounding them. It is also a novel about choice as Gemma and, later in the story, her friends negotiate what it means to be a young woman in Victorian England and try to quiet their own misgivings about their places in that privileged world.

The fascinating thing about A Great and Terrible Beauty is that it’s also a novel about frustration and hopes and, surprisingly, a novel about feminism–set in a time when no one even knew what feminism was. As much as this story is about Gemma Doyle it is also about the silent scream so many women kept bottled in at being commodities to be married off and sent away like so much merchandise being bought and sold.

A Great and Terrible Beauty is part character study, part fantasy, and mostly good storytelling. Rich with historic detail, fantasy, and strong characters, this is the captivating start of a story that continues in Rebel Angels and The Sweet Far Thing.

Possible Pairings: The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad, Chime by Franny Billingsley, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, The Crucible by Arthur Miller, The Ruby in the Smoke by Phillip Pullman, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud, The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Grand Tour by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer