Defy the Worlds: A Review

*Defy the Worlds is the second book in Gray’s latest trilogy. To avoid spoilers start at the beginning with the first book Defy the Stars.*

cover art for Defy the Worlds by Claudia GrayNoemi Vidal is a soldier of Genesis. Her trip across the galaxy with Abel–the most advanced cybernetic man in existence–showed Noemi how much bigger her world could be. It also showed her how she could save her planet and end their centuries long war with Earth. But Noemi couldn’t go through with the plan if it meant sacrificing Abel and his soul.

Now Abel is a fugitive traveling between the worlds of the Loop and trying to move on with his own life. When a dangerous plague is unleashed on Genesis Abel is desperate to help. Especially when he finds out that Noemi’s own efforts to save her planet have brought her directly into a trap.

Both Abel and Noemi have done the impossible before. Now, the fate of Genesis is once again at stake as the two struggle find a cure to the plague and save each other before time runs out in Defy the Worlds (2018) by Claudia Gray.

Defy the Worlds is the second book in Gray’s latest trilogy. To avoid spoilers start at the beginning with the first book Defy the Stars.

Defy the Worlds once again alternates between Noemi and Abel’s first person narrations as their paths move inexorably toward each other once again. This novel raises the stakes from book one with an appropriate increase in tension and action as the plot moves forward.

Intense action and horrific chase scenes are startling counterpoints to both Abel and Noemi’s internal struggles. Abel knows that he loves Noemi but he still isn’t sure what that means when he is a cybernetic machine and Noemi is not just a human but one from Genesis where the disavowal of technology is intrinsic to their way of life. Noemi is equally conflicted as her faith and loyalties are once again thrown into question.

Interestingly when I first read Defy the Worlds I was convinced it was a duology and could not find any information on a third book which makes the cliffhanger ending more than a bit frustrating. However that I know a third book is in the works I’m eagerly waiting to see what adventures and challenges Abel and Noemi will face next.

Defy the Worlds is another great installment in a thrilling sci-fi series that expands the world, raises new questions, and will definitely leave readers clamoring to know what happens next. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Bound by Blood and Sand by Becky Allen, Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza, Beta by Rachel Cohn, Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Stitching Snow by R. C. Lewis, Warcross by Marie Lu, Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 by Marissa Meyer and Douglas Holgate, Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh, Partials by Dan Wells

Labyrinth Lost: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida CordovaAlex is the most powerful bruja her family has seen in generations. Her mother and sisters are thrilled when Alex’s powers manifest so powerfully. But Alex knows that magic always has a cost and she’s unwilling to risk her family after already losing her father to wayward magic years ago.

Determined to rid herself of her magic before anyone else gets hurt, Alex turns to the family Book of Cantos for a spell to use on her Death Day–before she accepts the blessings of her family’s dead spirits and truly comes into her powers.

When Alex’s spell to get rid of her magic backfires and her family disappears from their Brooklyn home, she’ll have to travel to the world of Los Lagos to get them back with help from her best friend Rishi and a strange brujo boy with his own agenda in Labyrinth Lost (2016) by Zoraida Córdova.

Labyrinth Lost is the start to Córdova’s new Brooklyn Brujas series.

Córdova borrows from elements of santeria and latinx culture to create her own well-realized magic system in this highly enjoyable urban fantasy. Alex is a kickass heroine whose love for her family leads to near-catastrophe as her magic backfires and sends her relatives (living and dead) to Los Lagos.

Alex remains proactive and wastes no time wallowing as she bargains with a more knowledgeable (though less powerful) brujo named Nova to bring her across to the magical world of Los Lagos where she has to navigate treacherous lands and travel to the Labyrinth to rescue her family from the Devourer. Rishi, Alex’s best friend, comes along offering moral support, strength, and strategy even though she is uninitiated in bruja ways thanks to Alex’s reluctance to talk about her family to outsiders.

In a world where many things are uncertain, the love and support of Alex’s friends and family remain unconditional and rock solid throughout this novel where family plays a huge role. Alex is a fantastic protagonist who is empowered both as a bruja and a girl as she learns to embrace all aspects of her identity.

Córdova’s evocative writing brings Los Lagos and its otherworldly inhabitants vividly to life. Moments or peril contrast well with Alex’s witty first person narration and a sometimes tense romance as Alex tries to make sense of her growing feelings for Rishi while fighting for her life.

Labyrinth Lost is a fast-paced and atmospheric story filled with action and adventure. A must-read for urban fantasy fans and readers looking for a new coven of witches to join. (Just be ready with your best Resting Witch Face.)

Possible Pairings: Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Charmed (TV series)

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

Batman’s Dark Secret: A Picture Book Review

Batman's Dark Secret by Kelley Pucket and Jon J. MuthThe story starts with young Bruce Wayne out with his parents after watching a movie. Bruce, brave and inspired by the movie’s hero, walks with his parents down a terribly dark alley. In the darkness, Bruce hears two bangs and sees flashes of light before he smells smoke. When Bruce walks out of the alley, he does so alone. His parents are gone.

When Bruce returns to the Wayne mansion, he is terrified of the dark. With Alfred’s help he sets about lighting up the entire house to keep the shadows at bay. The lights work until Bruce falls through a hole into a pitch-black cave filled with bats. When Bruce is forced in this very physical way to face his fears, he learns to take control of the dark and vows that he will never be afraid again.

Then, as most readers will have guessed, this book closes with young Bruce Wayne’s transformation into Batman in Batman’s Dark Secret (2015) by Kelley Puckett, illustrated by Jon J. Muth.

Batman’s Dark Secret was originally published in 2000 as an easy reader. Scholastic is now reissuing the story as a picture book in advance of the newest Batman movie.

Batman’s Dark Secret is largely what you would expect from a version of Batman’s origin story meant for the hero’s youngest fans. Much of what makes Batman who he is ends up being sanitized to make the story palatable for small children. Gotham’s pervasive corruption is completely absent while the murder of Bruce’s parents is completely glossed over without their deaths ever being explicitly explained in the text.

Puckett’s text is child friendly and presented in smaller chunks on each page. Some of the pages read as a bit clunky largely because the source material is so out of sync with the age level of the text.

Muth’s illustrations work surprisingly well with this comic book hero. Striking watercolor illustrations make excellent use of light and dark to lend an appropriately noir feel to many spreads. The artwork also uses darkness to good effect conveying Bruce’s initial fear and how he ultimately comes to embrace the dark.

Obviously Batman’s Dark Secret has a rather niche audience. Truncated as it may be, this picture book is a good introduction to Batman for very young readers. Older readers, however, will likely prefer to get their Dark Knight fix in comics instead. A fun interpretation for committed fans and possibly an interesting picture book about overcoming fears /being afraid of the dark.

Jackaby: A Review

“One who can see the ordinary is extraordinary indeed, Abigail Rook.”

Jackaby by William RitterAbigail Rook has few prospects when she arrives in New Fiddleham, New England in 1892. After fleeing her boring and proper life (and parents) in England, she is keen to continue her adventures in this new country. Unfortunately having adventures require certain necessities, all of which require money.

After failing to get a series of menial jobs, Abigail finds herself in the unique position of serving as an investigative assistant to one R. F. Jackaby, investigator of the unexplained.

While Jackaby has a keen eye for the extraordinary–complete with the ability to see supernatural creatures and magic auras–Abigail is especially skilled at seeing the ordinary details that come together as the basis of any investigation.

Abigail and Jackaby, with the help of handsome police officer Charlie Cane, will have to work together to solve a series of grisly murders in New Fiddleham before they become the next victims–or the prime suspects in Jackaby (2014) by William Ritter.

Jackaby is Ritter’s first novel. A sequel, Beastly Bones, is slated for publication in September 2015.

Abigail is a fine addition to the recent crop of strong and self-sufficient heroines. In addition to being key to Jackaby’s investigation, Abigail is also a winsome narrator with quick thinking and a sharp tongue. It is wonderful to see a heroine who is able to acknowledge her strengths as easily as she does her weaknesses.

Jackaby is a character who will feel immediately to fans of Sherlock Holmes. Although he is not entirely original, Jackaby’s unfailingly belief in things unseen combined with his abrupt manner and deadpan humor make Jackaby a winning character in his own right.

Ritter is at pains throughout Jackaby to stress that Abigail has no romantic interest in Jackaby whatsoever. Although it is great to see a mystery and a fantasy sans romance, it was also disappointing because these two characters complement each other so perfectly. The lack of romance is complicated (much to the plot’s detriment) with secondary characters written in for both Abigail and Jackaby as quasi love interests. Abigails preoccupation with a certain police officer often feels particularly forced and unnecessary to the plot.

Despite its winning characters, Jackaby is somewhat weak as a mystery. Ritter includes several fairly obvious clues early on to leave attentive readers waiting to see big reveals for most of the novel. Uneven pacing also move the narrative along in often clumsy starts and stops until the denouement which seems to drag needlessly.

As a fantasy, Jackaby is an excellent novel with a fully realized world complete with a perfect blend of magic and historical details. A great choice for fans of historical fantasies or mysteries alike.

Possible Pairings: Knightley and Son by Rohan Gavin, Constable & Toop by Gareth P. Jones, Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy, Death Cloud by Andrew Lane, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

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*

Black City: A Review

Black City by Elizabeth RichardsAlthough the war is over, things are far from peaceful in Black City. The city’s cinder block buildings still burn. Tensions are high between the Sentry rulers and the workboot commoners. The boundary wall still stands, separating the humans from the Legion ghetto where the Darklings live.

Ash Fisher is the only twin-blood Darkling left in Black City–a dubious honor when his survival hinges on blending in. Unfortunately blending in is hard when you’re a foot taller than everyone with the addition of fangs and the lack of a beating heart. Not to mention the necessity of dealing Haze to stay afloat.

Natalie Buchanan would much prefer to be in the metropolitan capital city of Centrum where she could forget about her father’s murder and the rest of her family’s troubles. Unfortunately her mother had other plans and now Natalie is struggling to fit into a city she isn’t even sure she likes.

When Ash and Natalie meet it’s intense dislike at first sight. But then why does Natalie keep thinking about Ash? And why does Ash feel so strange when Natalie is near him?

Black City is dangerous at the best of times. With rising political unrest and threats of arrest at every turn, things are only getting worse. There couldn’t be a worse time to take a stand, let alone fall in love in Black City (2012) by Elizabeth Richards.

Black City is Richards’ first novel as well as the first book in The Black City Chronicles.

Richards dives right into the action leaving little room for explanations or background information. The opening pages are somewhat confusing with a lot of new terms thrown around and many characters introduced. While some explanations are offered as the story progresses, the pacing of the story remains uneven. In an effort to build suspense, Richards plays some plot elements close to the vest. Unfortunately instead of raising curiosity most of these secrets only led to anti-climactic reveals or underwhelming or predictable elements.

Black City alternates between Ash and Natalie’s first person narrations. While the change in viewpoint is effective in terms of plot development, the two voices are impossible to distinguish save to for Ash’s use of swear words and Natalie’s sheltered view of Black City politics.

Black City itself was evocative enough to be a character in the story. It felt like a supernatural version of Gotham City come to life and was marvelously described. Sadly the characters populating it were not as compelling. Having noticed the similarities, it’s impossible to think of this book as anything but a mash-up of Twilight and The Hunger Games. That said, readers who are fans of both titles are sure to find Black City immensely entertaining.

Possible Pairings: The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Legend by Marie Lu, Twiligth by Stephenie Meyer, Misfit by Jon Skovron, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

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

Living Dead Girl: A (sort of) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth ScottOnce upon a time Alice was a little girl who disappeared. Once upon a time her name was not Alice. Once upon a time Alice was just like you. But that was a long time ago. Before Alice knew how lucky she was before she became a living dead girl in Elizabeth Scott‘s Living Dead Girl (2009).

Five years ago Alice was taken by a man named Ray. Five years ago Alice was not Alice. She was ten years old and could still be the little girl Ray wanted in his home. In his bed. But now Alice is fifteen. She knows Ray is ready to release her, the same way he released the first Alice, and she longs for that moment when everything will end. But first Alice has to find her replacement, something Alice readily agrees to if it means Ray will finally let her go.

Despite how cold and calculating as Alice has had to become, the search is not easy. Could it be that Alice isn’t willing to be Alice anymore?

This is a haunting, grim, miserable little story. At 170 pages it is a fast read which is good because if readers stop too long to think about what is really happening to Alice it becomes too devastating to bear. That said, the actual writing of the story is much less traumatic than I would have expected.

Living Dead Girl has received a lot of accolades as a great book for teen readers (reluctant or otherwise). I don’t really get it myself and find it a hard one to pitch simply because it’s such a depressing book. Alice has been so irreparably broken by the time we meet that it is nearly impossible to harbor any hopes for her; her situation is hopeless.

Nonetheless, Scott’s writing is compelling and Living Dead Girl offers a uniquely accurate insight into what it really means to be a victim too afraid to speak out.

Possible Pairings: Sleepless by Cyn Balog, Pretty Girl-13 by Liz Coley, The Night She Disappeared by April Henry, Cut Me Free by J. R. Johansson, Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield, A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan, This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers