The Serpent King: A Review

The Serpent King by Jeff ZentnerDill is used to being an outsider. First because of his father’s Penecostal ministry where members handled poisonous snakes to prove their faith. Then later because of his father’s arrest for possession of child pornography. Consequently Dills tries to keeps his head down and does what is required to get by while attracting as little attention as possible.

Travis doesn’t worry much about what other people think of him, his dragon necklace, or the staff he carries everywhere. He knows who he is and refuses to let anyone diminish his abiding love of fantasy novels–also he’s 6’4″ which is a big help even if he hates aggression and violence.

Lydia has never avoided notice in her life. Born and raised in small town Tennessee, she dreams of life in the big city. And she knows that her ambition and her fashion/lifestyle blog Dolly Would will help her get there–starting with her application to NYU.

While Lydia and Travis have their eyes on the future, Dill knows that this last year of high school is as good as he can hope for. As everything ends and falls apart around him, Dill will have to try to write a new beginning for himself in The Serpent King (2016) by Jeff Zentner.

The Serpent King is Zentner’s first novel. It alternates first person narration primarily between Dill and Lydia with fewer chapters from Travis.

This novel is filled with evocative descriptions and dynamic characters. Lydia especially comes across as larger than life throughout the novel. While all three friends have a strong bond, they also have a lot of secrets. The contrast between their narrations highlight the ways that these friends come together and also the ways that they keep each other at a distance.

In addition to dealing with his family’s poverty and the repercussions of his father’s arrest, Dill also struggles with his faith throughout The Serpent King as he tries to reconcile his religious beliefs with his ambitions (and his mother’s refusal to believe that Dill can or should want more from his life).

Lydia’s life is a huge contrast to both Dill and Travis. Her family has more money, stability, and affection than either of the boys can imagine. While Lydia refuses to rein in her ambitions because of Dill and Travis’ limitations (they are both poor, have weaker grades, and fewer prospects after high school), she does unpack her privilege and gain some hard-won empathy as the novel progresses.

The Serpent King is an introspective and meditative novel closely focused on Dill, Lydia, and Travis. Thoughtful prose and a tense plot build to a satisfying conclusion as these characters realize the future can be whatever they choose to make it. Although the overall tone of this novel is melancholy, the story remains empowering and ultimately hopeful.

Possible Pairings: Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi, Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, Teach Me to Forget by Erica M. Chapman, Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, When We Collided by Emery Lord, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, 500 Words or Less by Juleah del Rosario, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, Birthday by Meredith Russo, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

You can also check out my interview with Jeff Zentner starting tomorrow.

The Raven King: A Review

“If you can’t be unafraid, be afraid and happy.”

The Raven King by Maggie StiefvaterGansey has been searching for his lost king for years. In the years after he died–and was brought back–Gansey is certain that finding Glendower is his destiny. Surely, such a quest is what he was saved to complete?

Along the way Gansey’s unlikely friends have joined him in the hunt: Ronan, a dreamer inextricably linked to the ley line and the magic of Cabeswater; Adam, who bargained away his autonomy to become Cabeswater’s magician; Noah, whose grip on his life is becoming more and more tenuous the longer he is dead; and Blue, the girl from a psychic family who is not psychic at all, the girl who is going to kill her true love with a kiss, the girl who loves Gansey.

For months now, Gansey and the rest have been creeping closer. Glendower is almost found. Dreams and nightmares are building. A storm is coming. Every quest has an end, but this time no one knows what they will find when it’s over in The Raven King (2016) by Maggie Stiefvater.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Raven King is the final book in Stiefvater’s widely acclaimed Raven Boys Cycle. It is preceded by The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, and Blue Lily, Lily Blue. This book should definitely be read in order with the other books in the series and (obviously) has spoilers for the earlier books.

It’s always bittersweet to come to the end of a much-loved series. With characters like Blue and Gansey and Ronan and Adam, it’s especially hard to say goodbye. But The Raven King is the conclusion these characters deserve–possibly even the one they have earned–after everything they’ve survived and accomplished in the rest of the series.

Like the rest of this series, The Raven King is extremely well done with flawless writing and a tight plot. Although some rare readers might find the ending a bit too perfect, this book is also an excellent example of what you have to always trust the author.

The Raven King is a story where all of the characters are hurtling towards very specific goals and destinations only to realize that in the end the destination wasn’t the point at all–it was the journey, it was the people met along the way (particularly when it comes to the new characters introduced here). A completely satisfying conclusion to a stunning and evocative series.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Pivot Point by Kasie West, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

*A copy of this title was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*

Compulsion: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Compulsion by Martina BooneBarrie Watson’s life in San Francisco was never normal. Not with her mother a shut-in after the fire that left her scarred and in constant pain. Not when so many people failed to appreciate her godfather Mark and his distinct drag style.

But now Barrie’s mother is dead and she has to leave Mark and San Francisco behind. Traveling to South Carolina to live with an aunt she’s never met is not Barrie’s idea of a good time. But maybe life on Watson Island can be different–a chance to be someone braver and stronger, a chance to really put her collection of glamorous shoes to good use.

Watson’s Landing is nothing like Barrie expected. The plantation is decrepit and filled with an overpowering sense of loss despite its neglected grandeur and the pedigree that comes with belonging to one of the island’s founding families. Everyone on the plantation and on the island beyond seems to know more about Barrie and her family than Barrie herself–especially Eight Beaufort, the gorgeous and infuriating neighbor who seems to know what Barrie wants before she knows herself.

With decades-old secrets and a generations-old family feud coloring everything she learns about her new surroundings, Barrie will have to unearth the truth about the island and its three founding families before she can ever call the plantation home in Compulsion (2014) by Martina Boone.

Compulsion is Boone’s first novel. It is also the first book in her trilogy The Heirs of Watson Island which will continue with Persuasion out in October 2015.

Barrie Watson is a sassy, astute heroine who is never afraid to speak her mind. With a gift for finding lost things and a pile of secrets about her past, Barrie’s exploration of her new home is immediately engrossing.

Eight Beaufort serves as an interesting counterpoint to Barrie throughout the story as he helps Barrie begin to separate her own wants and desires from that which she thinks she ought to want. The dynamic between these two vacillates a bit too abruptly from fighting to thoughts of kissing at points but it also highlights real caring and understanding as they work together to unearth some long-buried secrets about the island.

Boone delivers evocative settings and pitch perfect dialog in this Southern Gothic mystery with just a touch of paranormal romance.

In addition to page-turning action and lots of humor, Compulsion is filled with some genuinely scary moments as the story builds to its surprising conclusion. Compulsion is a strong debut on its own while also hinting at things to come later in The Heirs of Watson Island trilogy. Recommended for readers who like their romance a little spooky or paranormal as well as for Southern Gothic enthusiasts.

Possible Pairings: Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker, Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shephard, The Dolls by Kiki Sullivan, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

You can also check out my interview with Martina!

Daughter of Deep Silence: A Review

Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie RyanThree people survived when the luxury yacht Persephone sank. Two of them are lying.

Frances Mace knows the truth but at just fourteen, with everyone who ever knew her gone, Frances has no way to contradict the lies being told by the other survivors.

Four years after the disaster, everything about Frances is a lie. Everything about her is a tool meant to help her exact revenge. Frances will stop at nothing to get justice for the victims of the Persephone even if it means giving up the boy she loves and sacrificing her own identity in Daughter of Deep Silence (2015) by Carrie Ryan.

Daughter of Deep Silence is a standalone contemporary thriller reminiscent of the TV show Revenge.

Evocative language and vivid descriptions bring the novel’s South Carolina settings and Frances’ horror-stricken memories of the Persephone to life. Ryan pulls no punches in describing the hardships Frances faced when the Persephone sank nor does she shy away from exploring the post-traumatic stress that obviously plagues Frances four years later.

With rich characters and lavish settings, this story is a classic revenge story with added depth for the main character. Frances’ life is complicated and her sacrifices in pursuing revenge are almost too numerous to count.

Although Frances is a vibrant and strong character, her singular focus and strong personality only serve to underscore the fact that the rest of the characters are thinly drawn. (Shepherd in particularly felt like a prop for most of the story meant to act as a placeholder for Frances’ conscience.)

While Frances’ revenge plot is well-planned, the logic behind it (as well as the truth behind the sinking of the Persephone) both are largely anti-climactic after a book’s worth of build up. Readers seeking a story with more substance and stronger characterization will be left wanting more from this novel.

Daughter of Deep Silence will appeal to readers looking for an edgy, fast-paced revenge story that has its smart moments.

Possible Pairings: The Leaving by Tara Altebrando, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Dial Em for Murder by Marni Bates, Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, Foul is Fair by Hannah Capin, All Fall Down by Ally Carter,  With Malice by Eileen Cook, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, The Deceivers by Kristen Simmons, Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten, Revenge (TV series)

 

Mr. Samuel’s Penny: A (Rapid Fire) Review

Mr. Samuel's Penny by Treva Hall MelvinMr. Samuel’s Penny by Treva Hall Melvin (2014)

When 14-year-old Elizabeth Landers arrives in the small town of Ahoskie, North Carolina, she fully expects to have a boring vacation. Things turn out very differently that summer in 1972 almost as soon as Elizabeth and her sister arrive.

A grisly car accident catches the town’s attention and Elizabeth is at the scene when the bodies of Mr. Samuel and his young daughter are recovered. Mr. Samuel is clutching an unusual 1909 wheat penny in his hand—a penny that is stolen from the sheriff’s office.

Already interested in pennies herself and haunted by the crime scene, the protagonist decides to use part of her summer trying to find the penny for Mr. Samuel’s widow.

Melvin walks the line between adult nostalgia and the authentic voice of a teen throughout this novel that is set to start a new series. Unfortunately, the narrative never seems entirely comfortable with either tone.

Numerous biblical analogies and references to Christianity lend a decidedly non-secular tone to the entire novel. Elizabeth is still an approachable narrator, who will find her fans in certain readers.

*A slightly different version of this review appeared in an issue issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen in various sites online*

Blue Lily, Lily Blue: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie StiefvaterBlue hasn’t looked back since taking up the strange quest that has consumed four Raven Boys. Since then Gansey, Adam, Noah, and even Ronan, have amazingly become her best friends. What first seemed like disparate priorities and an absurd alliance has since blossomed into the strongest friendship Blue has ever known.

Their friendship isn’t the only thing to have changed since the search started.

Some bonds have strengthened while others have threatened to break. Dreams have offered as much wonder as terror.

And family, it turns out, can mean all kinds of things.

But as Blue, Gansey, Adam, Ronan and Noah come closer and closer to the end of their search all of them have to wonder what will come next. With so much to gain from finding what they are seeking, none of them–maybe especially Blue–has thought hard enough about how much there is to lose in Blue Lily, Lily Blue (2014) by Maggie Stiefvater.

Find it on Bookshop.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue is the third book in Stiefvater’s widely acclaimed Raven Boys Cycle. It is preceded by The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves. Although this book is the third in a four book series it works surprisingly well on its own with references to key events in previous books and a larger focus on both old and new characters.

This story picks up about a month after the events of The Dream Thieves.

Stiefvater offers another atmospheric fantasy filled with wry humor and unforgettable characters ranging from the protagonists readers have come to love to antagonists who are indecently likable. Lyrical, spirited prose moves along this character-driven story as we learn more about all of the major (and even some of the minor) players in this tale.

New problems–and losses–ensure that Blue Lily, Lily Blue will stand on its own merit outside of the (many) strengths of the Raven Boys Cycle. This installment also continues to keep the ongoing plot of the series fresh and exciting as nothing in this story is quite what readers will expect.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue also reaffirms the ties between these unlikely friends and the strength that can be found in such powerful bonds. While all of the characters grapple with what they know and do not know, both about themselves and their search, this novel cleverly celebrates the hidden depths to be found in all of their relationships.

This book goes in unexpected directions and circles back to events from the first book in a seamless manner that highlights how carefully this cycle is plotted. While Blue Lily, Lily Blue necessarily leaves unanswered questions it is a satisfying novel that strikes just the right chord between forward plot development and closure for this installment.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Pivot Point by Kasie West, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher*

Infinityglass: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Infinityglass by Myra McEntireWith the timeline falling apart and ripples appearing everywhere, members of the Hourglass Institute, are desperate to pool their time-manipulating skills and find a way to fix the continuum before the damage becomes permanent.

A legendary item called the Infinityglass is key to fixing the timeline and getting rid of the rips. The only problem is that the Hourglass isn’t the only organization looking for the Infinityglass.

Luckily, the Hourglass has an advantage: They now know that the Infinityglass isn’t an object. It’s a person. And she is living in New Orleans.

Sent to New Orleans to find the Infinityglass and help her understand her abilities, Dune finds a lot more than he bargained for. Hallie might be the key to fixing the timeline but she is also unpredictable and, for Dune, completely overwhelming. Before Hallie can fix anything, Dune will have to convince her to trust him and, together, they’ll have to figure out exactly what being the Infinityglass really means before they run out of time in Infinityglass (2013) by Myra McEntire.

Infinityglass is the third book in McEntire’s Hourglass trilogy. It is preceded by Hourglass and Timepiece.

Infinityglass dives in almost exactly where Timepiece left off. I read the two books back to back but I imagine other readers might need a quick recap to make sense of this final installment.

McEntire once again changes narrators here with the story alternating between Dune and Hallie’s narrations. Although the change is initially surprising (Hallie is a new character and Dune was a secondary one in the previous books) the choice works here. Both characters are add new aspects to the series.

This story is very plot driven but it still leaves room for the characters–specifically Dune and Hallie–to grow and learn throughout the story.

Although the book’s resolution was rushed (and extremely convenient for the characters) it also makes sense for the story and the arc of the trilogy. McEntire also takes the time to give these characters a proper goodbye with an apt epilogue.

This is one of my favorite time travel series and one I highly recommend to anyone looking for an original, readable sci-fi adventure.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, Born of Illusion by Teri Brown, The Infinity of You & Me by J. Q. Coyle, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Malice by Pintip Dunn, Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, Clarity by Kim Harrington, The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Star Cursed by Jessica Spotswood, Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone, Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor, All Out Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Pivot Point by Kasie West

Timepiece: A Review

Timepiece by Myra McEntireKaleb Ballard knows all about the ways time can be manipulated by people with the right abilities–time travel, speed, telekinesis, even the ability to control tides or read emotions. What Kaleb never expected was that he would start seeing the ripples created in time when things are disturbed.

When an old enemy to the Hourglass Institute resurfaces, Kaleb’s suspicions are confirmed. Worse, a new player is on the board with an ultimatum that can’t be ignored.

With the rips getting worse, Kaleb and his friends know something bad is coming. The only problem is none of them are sure how to stop an enemy they can’t even find in Timepiece (2012) by Myra McEntire.

Timepiece is the second book in McEntire’s Hourglass trilogy. It is preceded by Hourglass.

This story picks up soon after the events of book one with McEntire striking an ideal balance between summarizing past events and offering new information as readers re-immerse themselves in this series (which was probably helped along by the shift in viewpoint this time around).

Kaleb is often a mess in this story. He makes terrible decisions, he’s obnoxious, and he knows he’s attractive enough to get away with it most of the time. All of that left the potential for Kaleb to be a terribly unlikable narrator. Happily, he is instead a surprisingly honest and insightful one.

It’s unlikely that Timepiece will attract new readers to this series simply because there is so much information readers will need to retain from book one. However this is another great time-tripping read that fans of Hourglass are sure to enjoy. With twists and surprises galore, Timepiece is also guaranteed to leave readers eager for the next book.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, Born of Illusion by Teri Brown, The Infinity of You & Me by J. Q. Coyle, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Malice by Pintip Dunn, Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, Clarity by Kim Harrington, The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone, Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor, All Out Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Pivot Point by Kasie West

The Dream Thieves: A Review

The Dream Thieves by Maggie StiefvaterEverything changed for Blue, Gansey, Ronan and Adam before they ever found Cabeswater. Things changed for Noah long before that.

Now that the ley lines have awakened even more changes are coming to the small town of Henrietta. There will certainly be more moments of wonder; maybe even things coming close to magic. But darker things are also being drawn to the power of the lines.

Ronan always knew that his family was different. He always knew that his dreams were different. Ronan always knew that, in some fundamental ways, he was different.

It wasn’t, after all, everyone who had a pet raven named Chainsaw. Nor was it everyone who acquired such a pet from his own dreams.

As Gansey’s search for Glendower and Cabeswater continues it soon becomes clear that Ronan’s dreams are at the center of their latest puzzle. But with so many people searching and grasping for pieces of Cabeswater, it’s unclear how much will have to be lost before the next piece of the puzzle will be found in The Dream Thieves (2013) by Maggie Stiefvater.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Dream Thieves is the second book in Stiefvater’s Raven Boys quartet. This book picks up closely after the conclusion of book one, The Raven Boys. While both books are delightful on their own, it’s unlikely readers new to the series will be able to catch up without reading the first installment.

This book focuses much more on Ronan even as Stiefvater continues to delve into the mysteries surrounding Glendower and Gansey’s search. Blue and Gansey have their moments, of course, but it was a pleasant surprise to have the book focus so much on Ronan. (Even more of a surprise to realize how very likable he is as a character.)

Stiefvater’s writing is top-notch as this series continues. The focus on Ronan’s dreams and a new secondary character takes the story in a new direction while Stiefvater’s beautiful prose and familiar characters continue to deliver everything readers will remember with fondness from The Raven Boys.

The Dream Thieves is a perfect blend of skillful storytelling and suspense as tension builds until the final confrontations in the story. Being the second book in a series of four, there are (of course) several questions left by the end of the story including a very surprising ending. That said, Stiefvater delivers everything fans will hope for and expect from her in this novel along with a story that is certain to resonate with readers.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Pivot Point by Kasie West, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

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

The Moon and More: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Moon and More by Sarah DessenEmaline’s family has always been complicated with volatile arguments between her and her two older sisters and her mother who has always wanted to give Emaline the moon and more. That isn’t even considering her dad and her biological father. Or the younger brother she barely knows.

Emaline has enough to worry about the summer before college without thinking about her relatives. Her job at the family real estate business means that she is busy checking in renters and catering to the whims of high-maintenance clients like the filmmaker who plans on filming a documentary about a local artist during the summer. Never mind that the artist in question wants nothing to do with the project.

With college just around the corner, Emaline knew this summer would be different. She didn’t expect troubles with her boyfriend. She couldn’t have guessed that her father would make a sudden appearance in Colby. And at the start of the summer, she certainly had no idea how everything would come together–not to give her the moon but some things that are just as valuable in The Moon and More (2013) by Sarah Dessen.

Set in the beach town of Colby, The Moon and More perfectly captures the breezy, aimless feel of a quiet summer. With evocative settings and an equally strong cast of characters, Dessen aptly portrays the mixed feelings that come with a summer that starts full of promise and turns into something entirely unexpected.

At over four hundred pages (hardcover), The Moon and More has a plot that meanders across an entire summer to show readers an entire family as well as a picturesque town. Although the book felt a bit long at times, all of the pieces come together in the end to create a full picture. Emaline is a great narrator; she knows exactly who she is and exactly what she wants. Although she occasionally loses her way, Dessen navigates Emaline’s complicated choices with skill and grace.

The family dynamics in The Moon and More are fascinating as Emaline tries to figure out what a relationship with the father she barely knows would even look like. With half-siblings and step-parents it was also nice to see Emaline’s family was just that–a family without any complicated labels.

At its start, The Moon and More is a story of summer love. By the end, this book becomes a lot more as Emaline begins to understand who she is and, more importantly, who she wants to be.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Moonglass by Jessi Kirby, Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta, The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, Unbreak My Heart by Melissa C. Walker, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee

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