Soundless: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Soundless by Richelle MeadFei’s entire village lost its hearing generations ago. Some claim that mythical pixius eliminated sound on the mountaintop so that they could slumber but no one really knows. For Fei and her people it is the way life has always been in their village isolated by mountains on all sides.

Life in the village can be bleak as miners work to extract precious metals from the mountain’s mine in exchange for food rations sent up via zipline from the kingdom of Beiguo far below.

With villagers going blind and food–already a precious commodity–coming in smaller and smaller quantities, the fate of the village is uncertain. Fei can see the growing threats to her people every day as she observes the village to paint her part of the day’s record that are displayed in the village center each morning.

Awoken one night be unsettling dreams and a noise unlike anything she could imagine, Fei realizes that her hearing has been restored. With this strange new sense to help her and steadfast Li Wei by her side, Fei has the power to change her own life and that of her entire village forever in Soundless (2015) by Richelle Mead.

Soundless is a standalone fantasy inspired by Mead’s fascination with and love for Chinese folklore.

Fei is a fantastic heroine fueled by fierce love for her sister. She is strong, capable and confident in her own strengths. Fei brings an artistic eye to her world as she begins to push against the status quo in her village. Surprising twists and shocks make for an surprising final act as Soundless builds to an exciting conclusion.

Although this novel does employ a magical cure for Fei’s deafness, the subject is still handled thoughtfully with cleverly integrated dialog (written in italics as characters sign to each other) and carefully blocked scenes (Mead is always mindful that the characters are looking at each other before they begin signing for instance). Fei’s struggle to make sense of sound after a lifetime without is fascinating and extremely well done. Moments in the narrative also highlight times when not hearing is an advantage as well.

Fei does come to see her restored hearing as an asset and something of value that she hopes her friends and loved ones will also experience one day. However it is important to note that lack of hearing is never portrayed as a limitation for any of the characters.

Soundless is further strengthened with a sweet romance between Fei and Li Wei who are thrown together to save their village. Their evolving relationship throughout the novel is, in a word, adorable.

Diverse characters, unique mythology, and a thoughtful examination of deafness add another dimension to this rich narrative. Soundless is a provocative and original fantasy novel in a rarely seen setting. A must-read and highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Red Rising by Pierce Brown, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Mistwood by Leah Cypress, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, Eon by Allison Goodman, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier, Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Updraft by Fran Wilde

*A copy this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2015*

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!

The Devil and Winnie Flynn: A Review

The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow and David OstowSeventeen-year-old Winnie Flynn doesn’t know why her mother killed herself. All she knows is that her dad said yes when Winnie’s estranged aunt Maggie proposed that Winnie spend the summer with her. Now Winnie is working as a production assistant on Fantastic Fearsome, the reality TV show Maggie produces and hosts.

This season the show has fresh, young talent (including one Devil Hunter named Seth who is as earnest as he is cute) and big plans to track down the famous Jersey Devil.

As much as she loves horror movies, Winnie doesn’t believe in ghosts–or the Devil. But as she gets to know the Hunters and learns more about the Devil’s strange history, Winnie begins to wonder if there might be some fact to the fantastic here.

Soon, Winnie realizes her family may have a stronger connection to the Devil than she could have imagined. But even Winnie’s firm skepticism and calm might not be enough to keep her safe in The Devil and Winnie Flynn (2015) by Micol Ostow with illustration by David Ostow.

The Devil and Winnie Flynn is the second collaboration from the Ostow siblings.

Written as a scrapbook-style letter for Winnie’s friend Lucia, The Devil and Winnie Flynn is a mixed media adventure filled with illustrations, shooting scripts, and other ephemera beyond the traditional narrative including appropriately eerie depictions of choice Jersey locations.

Winnie’s dry humor and skepticism throughout the narrative keeps this novel firmly grounded even as the story moves into decidedly “fantastic” territory complete with magical powers, mysterious guardians and other psychic phenomena.

A quick finish and unanswered questions about Winnie’s mother will leave readers hoping that The Devil and Winnie Flynn is the start to a series. The Devil and Winnie Flynn is a fun and campy horror novel filled with real details about the Devil and evocative New Jersey locations sure to have high appeal for horror fans.

Possible Pairings: Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, Ghost Huntress by Marley Gibson, Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, I Woke Up Dead at the Mall by Judy Sheehan, Veronica Mars

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the 2015 issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen on various sites online*

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, 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, 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*

The Marvels: A Review

The Marvels by Brian SelznickThe story starts in 1776 with Billy Marvel, the only survivor of a shipwreck. Alone in the world and looking to start over Billy finds himself drawn to a London theater beginning a dynasty of actors and theater performers that will span five generations.

In 1990 Joseph Jervis runs away from his boarding school to the home of an estranged uncle he has never met. Uncle Albert’s house is like nothing Joseph has ever seen. As he struggles to find his place in the world, Joseph will also have to unravel the mystery of the strange Marvel family and how their story is intricately linked to Joseph’s family and his own future in The Marvels (2015) by Brian Selznick.

The Marvels is Selznick’s third novel in his innovative blend of traditional prose narrative and wordless illustrations. This time the illustrations and prose offer two distinct stories that blend together in surprising ways by the end of the novel.

The Marvels begins with wordless illustrations following the larger-than-life Marvel family and their exploits on the London stage from 1776 with Billy Marvel down to 1900 when young Leo Marvel wonders if it is time to choose another path.

The prose narrative picks up in 1990 as Joseph arrives in London desperate to find somewhere he can call home–even if it is with a prickly uncle he has never met in a strange house filled with artifacts whose important Joseph will come to understand over the course of the book.

The less you know about The Marvels before you read it, the better. This book is one that should be experienced cold as readers work with Joseph to make sense of Uncle Albert’s mysterious house and all of the secrets it holds.

The Marvels is an obvious progression of Selznick’s work as he masterfully brings together two seemingly unrelated narratives to create a cohesive story that is as complex as it is enthralling. Definitely a must-read of 2015.

If you want to know more about Selznick’s inspiration and process, check out this article: http://www.vulture.com/2015/08/brian-selznicks-latest-the-marvels.html

You can also check out the trailer which Selznick created to get a sense of the sweeping beauty of this novel.

Possible Pairings: A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine, Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai, Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt, Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool, One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, Weedflower by Jacqueline Woodson

Bone Gap: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Bone Gap by Laura RubyNo one in Bone Gap is surprised when Roza disappears. People have been leaving the O’Sullivan brothers for years and it only makes sense that the girl who appeared out of nowhere should leave just as suddenly.

Finn O’Sullivan knows that Roza didn’t just leave. And he knows that he didn’t do anything to save her.

Months later most everyone in Bone Gap has given up pretending to believe Finn’s story about the man who took Roza. Even Finn’s brother, Sean, is tired of hearing about the man with the unique stillness and the face Finn can never quite describe.

Finn refuses to stop looking. His search will take him deep into the secrets of Bone Gap to places he couldn’t imagine. In trying to find Roza, Finn will learn that sometimes you have to stop looking before you can truly see in Bone Gap (2015) by Laura Ruby.

Bone Gap is a rich and atmospheric novel. The town of Bone Gap is a strange place filled with secrets and magic that most people have forgotten. In a town populated with strange and vivid characters even Bone Gap itself becomes an indelible part of this novel that is firmly grounded with a strong sense of place.

Some would call Bone Gap magic realism but references to fairy tales and magic bring a purer form of fantasy to mind in this story where beauty can be a curse and being blind is sometimes the best way to see.

Bone Gap masterfully blends myth and magic in a contemporary setting to create a thoughtful story filled with unlikely heroes, surprising twists and a plot that expertly subverts traditional fairytale tropes. Bone Gap is a lovely, unexpected novel that is incredibly smart. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, The Rose and the Beast by Francesca Lia Block, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, Dreamology by Lucy Keating, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Weight of Feathers by Anne-Marie McLemore, The Boneshaker by Kate Milford, Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

Lock & Mori: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Lock & Mori by Heather W. PettyModern London can be a strange and dangerous place. For Miss James “Mori” Moriarty it can also be decidedly dull. Between school, where she knows all of the answers, and home, where life with her father can feel like stepping into a mine field, Mori’s only refuge is solitude.

After one especially bad day, Mori meets Sherlock “Lock” Holmes.

That night they meet again in Regent’s Park at the scene of a murder.

When Lock challenges Mori to solve the murder before him, she has no intention of participating in his game–particularly with the only rule being that they share all information. She has no intention of having anything to do with Lock at all.

Mori’s intentions quickly change when she is drawn into the investigation and realizes the truth might be closer than she could possibly imagine. Mori begins keeping secrets even as she finds herself drawn closer to Lock and to a revelation about the case that could change her life forever in Lock & Mori (2015) by Heather W. Petty.

Lock & Mori is Petty’s first novel and the start to a Lock and Mori trilogy.

Almost everyone knows what happens to these characters in the original Sherlock Holmes stories–it’s impossible not to when the struggle between Sherlock and Moriarty has become part of the public consciousness over the years.

Lock & Mori is an admirable homage to one of literature’s best villains and arguably the greatest of fictional detectives. It is also, thanks to a solid plot and some unique reinterpretations on Petty’s part, an excellent mystery in its own right. By imagining Moriarty as a girl, Petty complicates and adds new dimensions to Moriarty’s relationship with Holmes.

Lock and Mori are, of course, smart characters. Readers familiar with their inspirations would expect nothing less. Although both Mori and Lock are analytical in the extreme, they are never cold. Mori struggles with affection (both receiving and giving) while Lock is often mystified by basic human interaction. Even with those limitations, both characters have obvious moments of empathy and sincerity without any of the aloofness so often associated with a sharply deductive mind.

It is also fascinating to see these two characters when they are younger and less sure. Sherlock, so often beyond reproach, is still learning here. Mori, although the hero of this story, remains a mystery as readers wonder what path will unfold for her in future installments.

Lock & Mori is a fantastic series starter. A great read for mystery fans in general and Sherlock fans in particular. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel, The Body in the Woods by April Henry, Every Breath by Ellie Marney, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, Never Never by Brianna Shrum, Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams

You can also read my exclusive interview with Heather!