I recently read the first volumes of two long-running comic books: Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Bill Willingham’s Fables. Click here to see what I thought of them!
A Gathering of Shadows – V.E. Schwab
Four months have passed since the shadow stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Rhy was wounded and the Dane twins fell, and the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift, and into Black London.
In many ways, things have almost returned to normal, though Rhy is more sober, and Kell is now plagued by his guilt. Restless, and having given up smuggling, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks like she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games—an extravagant international competition of magic, meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries—a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.
But while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life, and those who were thought to be forever gone have returned. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night reappears in the morning, and so it seems Black London has risen again—meaning that another London must fall.
Earlier this year, I tore through V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic. I loved it so much, I wrote TWO different reviews (which ended up being published on the same day), recommended it to just about everyone who mentioned the word “book”, and ordered the sequel from the UK (so that my set would match!).
I’m calling it right now: A Gathering of Shadows may end up being my Best Book of 2016.
Because I read the first one so recently, I didn’t need any refresher, which was good because the story throws you right back into Red London. I didn’t think it was possible, but Lila Bard became 1000 times cooler than she already was. You wanna talk about strong female characters? Lila is one of the strongest out there. She’s tough, street-smart, and hella powerful. Literally – much of this book deals with Lila coming to terms with her new-found powers/control over the elements.
Strength and weakness are tangled things…They look so much alike, we often confuse them, the way we confuse magic and power.
While Red London is hosting their international magic game (I’m picturing a cross between the Triwizard Tournament and the Olympics), Kell and Rhy are adjusting to their newly complicated bromance. For reasons that you’d know if you read the first one, their lives are even more entangled than before, and it’s made them both restless and reckless. Kell is also struggling with his role in the kingdom, as everyone seems to blame him for the events of the Black Night.
This book should be held up as an example of How to Write Multiple Perspectives and Keep Your Audience Hooked. I was mesmerized by all the POVs (obviously Kell and Lila’s were my favourites, but Rhy is such a scene-stealer and the other minor story line had me squawking in alarm), and hurtled through the last hundred pages. That ending destroyed me in the best way (that last line? I felt chills) but OH MY GLOB, I CANNOT WAIT for the next book.
My only complaint would be that it took forever for Lila and Kell to meet up again but IT WAS WORTH IT. Those two make me squeal and fail all over the place because they’re just so perfect for each other. I want to read about them forever. Honestly, I love all the characters – the ones we’ve met before and the new ones who are just as intriguing (‘sup, Alucard Emery, my pirate-y friend). And while I normally appreciate unhappy endings – sometimes, I even prefer them – I will cry enough tears to flood Red London’s Isle if someone dies in book three.
Kell would say it was impossible. What a useless word, in a world with magic.
It’s hard for me to review this one because most of the parts I loved are spoilery and you do NOT want to spoil this read. I managed to avoid reading reviews before picking this up, and I’m glad I did because it’s a journey you MUST take on your own. It has elements that will appeal to anyone, and the writing is so smooth, it’s a genuine delight to read. I bow down to you, Victoria Schwab, for your writing is gorgeous and so are your characters (both physically and personality wise).
If you haven’t already, pick this series up. And then come talk to me because I need to fangirl.
Dead and Breakfast: A Cayo Hueso Mystery – Kimberly G. Giarratano
Despite living in Key West his whole life, 18-year-old Liam Breyer is a skeptic of the supernatural until a vengeful spirit, murdered fifty years ago, nearly drowns him in a swimming pool. Luckily help arrives in the form of pretty — albeit homesick — ghost whisperer Autumn Abernathy, whose newly-divorced mom has dragged her to the island to live and work at the Cayo Hueso, a haunted bed and breakfast.
Although they initially mistrust each other, Autumn and Liam team up to solve the decades-old mystery. But on an island where every third resident is a ghost, dealing with an unstable spirit has deadly consequences. If Liam and Autumn don’t unmask the killer soon, they’re likely to become Key West’s latest haunted attraction.
Release Date: March 22nd, 2016
Thank you to the author, Kimberly Giarratano, for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review!
I loved Kim’s first YA mystery, Grunge Gods and Graveyards, when I read it last year, so I was pretty excited when she offered me a copy of her new one.
What I liked:
-the mystery. At first, it seems fairly obvious who the murderer was, but as the story progresses and more clues are unearthed, you start to question whodunnit. Like Kimberly’s previous book, everything unfolds in a logical way, so you never feel like the characters know more than you do.
As for the identity of the murderer…the big reveal was handled very well and I liked how everything tied together.
-Timothy. Although he’s a secondary character, I liked how sassy and knowledgeable he was. I hope he plays a bigger role in the next book!
-the ghostly possession. I don’t want to spoil anything, but Autumn has some pretty cool abilities when it comes to the paranormal.
What I didn’t like:
-while I thought Liam and Autumn were cute together, I wasn’t completely sold on their relationship. Of course, since this looks like the first book in a series, I’m sure by the next one I’ll be hardcore shipping them. But for now, I think I preferred the Lainey/Danny relationship in Grunge Gods.
If you’re looking for cozy YA mysteries with a dark edge, keep Kimberly Giarratano on your radar!
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Dante can swim. Ari can’t. Dante is articulate and self-assured. Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt. Dante gets lost in poetry and art. Ari gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison. Dante is fair skinned. Ari’s features are much darker. It seems that a boy like Dante, with his open and unique perspective on life, would be the last person to break down the walls that Ari has built around himself.
But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives, and help define the people they want to be. But there are big hurdles in their way, and only by believing in each other―and the power of their friendship―can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side.
I’ve been meaning to read this book for ages and I finally picked up a copy a couple of weeks ago. First of all, this cover is gorgeous – I almost don’t like all the awards plastered on it because it takes away from the lovely border. Still, those awards were well deserved – this book was beautiful.
Words were different when they lived inside of you.
One summer, Aristotle meets Dante at a swimming pool and they become inseparable. They spend nearly every day together and, despite their differences, form a deep bond. At one point, Ari even saves his new friend’s life; while he’s embarrassed at being seen as a hero, he can’t escape Dante’s gratitude…until Dante and his family move to Chicago.
I had learned to hide what I felt. No, that’s not true. There was no learning involved. I had been born knowing how to hide what I felt
While the story revolves around the two boys, there are a lot of other strong relationships represented throughout the book: Ari’s mom who worries that he will end up in prison like his older brother; his father who lived through the Vietnam War and came back emotionally scarred; and Dante’s parents who are just wonderful in general (especially his dad who Ari thinks of as being genuinely kind).
I don’t really know what else to say about this book without spoiling anything. It was beautifully written – Ari’s narration has a poetic edge to it and he gives us a lot of information and insight into the characters just by their actions. Of course, I love how diverse it is – the boys are Mexican-American but Dante feels less connected to his culture than Ari because, I think, of his more privileged upbringing (his parents are a professor and a therapist whereas Ari’s mother is a teacher and his veteran father is a postman). And the coming-out plotline is handled well; my only complaint would be that the gay characters are quickly accepted by other important characters without any friction – I’m not saying that’s impossible, but I’d imagined it would have been a bigger deal.
I bet you could sometimes find all the mysteries of the universe in someone’s hand.
I think it’s up to each reader to discover the secrets of Ari and Dante’s mini universe for themselves. It’s worth a read…even if it will probably make you cry (at least a single tear).
A couple of weeks ago, I got to review Tones, the latest album for husband-and-wife duo The Bergamot for idobi radio. If you’re into indie/alternative music like Florence + the Machine or Of Monsters and Men, you should definitely check them out – their bright “alternative-folk” will help cure your winter blues. You can read my review here!
And while you’re in an alternative music mood, you can also check out my interview with idobi’s creative director, Sherin Nicole, here!
The Nowhere Emporium – Ross MacKenzie
When the mysterious Nowhere Emporium arrives in Glasgow, orphan Daniel Holmes stumbles upon it quite by accident. Before long, the ‘shop from nowhere’ — and its owner, Mr Silver — draw Daniel into a breathtaking world of magic and enchantment. Recruited as Mr Silver’s apprentice, Daniel learns the secrets of the Emporium’s vast labyrinth of passageways and rooms — rooms that contain wonders beyond anything Daniel has ever imagined. But when Mr Silver disappears, and a shadow from the past threatens everything, the Emporium and all its wonders begin to crumble. Can Daniel save his home, and his new friends, before the Nowhere Emporium is destroyed forever?
I picked this book up in Scotland last summer (I wanna say it was like the “Scottish Children’s Book of the Year” or something along those lines), and finally got around to reading it.
…for those of us who open our eyes, those who truly dare to wonder, there is treasure everywhere.
Let me start by saying that I did enjoy it. It was cute and imaginative, and kept me intrigued (although I did get a little impatient at one point). While most of the story took place in present-day Glasgow, every so often there were chapters that took us back to Edinburgh in the late 1800’s. It was a nice way to talk about Mr. Silver’s backstory without filling the present-day chapters with paragraphs of exposition.
Stories are precious.. They are treasure. And the most precious story of all is that of life.
I liked Daniel as a protagonist; while he wasn’t anything special, per se, he was curious and gentle and formed a sweet relationship with Mr. Silver’s daughter, Ellie. Ellie had the potential to be a great character too, but I felt she was a little stiff and maybe not as fleshed out as Daniel or even Mr. Silver. The villain – who had a fabulous name – was a little on the comical side because of how aggressive he was (he had a Count Olaf vibe), and I saw one of the plot twists coming from a hundred pages away, but the writing was still charming.
My problem with the book is that it seemed familiar, like I’d already read it before. At first, I thought it was bringing back vague memories of the movie, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, but several Goodreads reviews mentioned how similar it is to Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus (except, obviously, for a middle grade audience!). There’s also a scene that is ALMOST IDENTICAL to a scene in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and it bothered me that the editor didn’t point it out or try to change part of it (seriously, it’s practically verbatim).
I keep waffling between giving it a 3.5 and a 4; on the one hand, it was enjoyable and a breeze to get through; on the other, it seemed like a mishmash of other books and movies, so it didn’t feel unique enough to warrant four stars. It would be a great book to hand to a middle grade reader who was not up to committing to the whole Harry Potter series, though.
Dirty Wings – Sarah McCarry
Maia is a teenage piano prodigy and dutiful daughter, imprisoned in the oppressive silence of her adoptive parents’ house like a princess in an ivory tower. Cass is a street rat, witch, and runaway, scraping by with her wits and her knack for a five-fingered discount. When a chance encounter brings the two girls together, an unlikely friendship blossoms that will soon change the course of both their lives. Cass springs Maia from the jail of the only world she’s ever known, and Maia’s only too happy to make a break for it. But Cass didn’t reckon on Jason, the hypnotic blue-eyed rocker who’d capture Maia’s heart as soon as Cass set her free–and Cass isn’t the only one who’s noticed Maia’s extraordinary gifts. Is Cass strong enough to battle the ancient evil she’s unwittingly awakened–or has she walked into a trap that will destroy everything she cares about? In this time, like in any time, love is a dangerous game.
Dirty Wings is an extension of All Our Pretty Songs as it shows us how Maia and Cass (the mothers in AOPS) met and became friends. While it’s technically a sequel, you don’t have to read them back-to-back; it would hold up as a standalone, but there are some “OH, I GET IT” moments that you’d only experience if you read both.
Once again, the prose is gorgeous, particularly during Maia’s sections when she describes her piano playing:
…she is the keys, the strings vibrating, she is the wood of the hammers falling and the brass of the pedals and the charged atoms of the air whirling past her, she is the waves of sound, she is articles bright and living, she is shattering and coming together, she is breathing the music, she is transcendent, she is divine.
Cass and Maia have such an intense relationship that, once Jason enters the scene, Cass’s feelings of fear and loss become palpable. It’s heartbreaking to see how she starts to unravel when she feels like Maia is slipping away from her, and the last couple of chapters piece together the puzzle of their relationship in All Our Pretty Songs.
I felt like this one was more obvious about which myth it was pulling from. There are some visuals that are associated with Persephone, such as the pomegranate, and there is the appearance of a dark, dream-like figure, who I’m guessing is Hades. You don’t have to know the myth to appreciate the allusions because they’re built in so flawlessly, they wouldn’t stand out if you weren’t looking for them.
Because it’s more literary fiction, not a whole lot happens, but the stuff that does happen is significant (I know that’s vague, but I don’t want to spoil anything!). This time around, the story is told in alternating chapters, “Then” and “Now”, and the deeper you get into the book, the more you see how they’re connected. There are some key moments that happen in “Now” that are relevant to All Our Pretty Songs, and it retroactively makes the first book clearer (if that makes sense) as you start to fill in the holes left by the unnamed narrator in AOPS.
The Serpent King – Jeff Zentner
Dillard Early, Jr., Travis Bohannon and Lydia Blankenship are three friends from different walks of life who have one thing in common: none of them seem to fit the mold in rural Tennessee’s Forrestville High. Dill has always been branded as an outsider due to his family heritage as snake handlers and poison drinkers, an essential part of their Pentecostal faith. But after his father is sent to prison for sexual abuse of a young parishioner, Dill and his mother become real pariahs. His only two friends are Travis, a gentle giant who works at his family’s lumberyard and is obsessed with a Game of Thrones-like fantasy series (much to his alcoholic father’s chagrin); and Lydia, who runs a popular fashion blog that’s part Tavi Gevinson and part Angela Chase, and is actively plotting her escape from Redneckville, Tennessee.
As the three friends begin their senior year, it becomes clear that they won’t all be getting to start a promising new life after graduation. How they deal with their diverging paths could cause the end of their friendship. Until a shattering act of random violence forces Dill to wrestle with his dark legacy and find a way into the light of a future worth living.
Release Date: March 8th, 2016
Thank you to my gal Sylvia at Tundra for an ARC of this book!
I read Jeff Zentner’s debut in November and foolishly didn’t write my review right away so my memory of it is a little fuzzy but please: read this book.
Read this book if you want a bad case of the feels. Read this book if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to grow up in the Bible Belt. Read this book if you’re looking for a realistic depiction of friendship, of a crush growing into something more, of a kid who wants to make a name for himself and get out of his father’s shadow.
What I liked:
-the different voices. Told through the POVs of all three main characters – Dill, Lydia, and Travis – each chapter contributes a different flavour to the overall story. They’re all unique and easily identifiable (I don’t know about you, but it drives me bonkers when there are multiple POVs that all sound the same), and I think each reader will find the “strongest” voice based on who they relate to the most.
-the story. Dill’s pastor father was convicted of sexual abuse, and, because of their role in the community, Dill finds it hard to distance himself from his father’s actions. It’s frustrating and sad and, unfortuately, probably true of that kind of town, which makes Dill’s plight all the more sympathetic.
-the writing is lovely and detailed, full of poignant moments of reflection, and even if you’ve never been in a small Southern town, you can picture it.
-despite Dill and Travis’s dysfunctional family situations, Lydia’s parents are shown as being a fun, loving couple, which is hard to find since most YA parents tend to be disinterested or absent or dead. It sets up an intersting dichotomy between Lydia and her friends who aren’t as privileged as her in more ways than one.
-the fantasy series and author who is totally a fictional version of G.R.R.Martin. I’m not a Game of Thrones fan in any way (books or show), but even I can appreciate an allusion like that!
What I didn’t like:
-I can’t think of anything in particular that I didn’t enjoy in The Serpent King. I was warned going in that I would need tissues by the end and I sort of guessed what would happen, but not the circumstances surrounding that event. As sad as it was, I’m almost glad it went in that direction otherwise I would have been disappointed by a predictable ending.
During my Tundra internship, I read the first 20-odd pages of Jeff’s second book, and I went from crying to laughing and back again so fast, I felt confused for the rest of the day. The Serpent King is similar in that you’ll find yourself smiling right before you’re kicked in the heart on the very next page. An impressive debut, I’m looking forward to the rest of Jeff’s work.
After hearing amazing things about it, I finally picked up a copy of V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic (just in time for the sequel, A Gathering of Shadows)! Click here to see what I thought!
George – Alex Gino
When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.
George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy.
With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.
I’ve heard amazing things about George, so when I saw it on sale at a library (I’m the only person I know who can go to a library and buy a book), I picked it up right away.
I don’t know a lot about transgender and transitioning or how terrible it must be to feel like a stranger in your own body. I don’t even know if I have all the right vocabulary to be able to talk about it because I don’t have the personal experience to relate to. But I think everyone can understand the loneliness George feels, and it’s easy to empathize with such a sweet character.
It takes a special person to cry over a book. It shows compassion as well as imagination.
It’s hard for George to “come out” to people, and the adults in her life don’t make it any easier by constantly reinforcing the idea that she is a boy. Those are the most heartbreaking moments, which are especially sad because I know there are children out there who actually have to deal with this kind of attitude. I do think it’s lovely that George’s older brother is ultimately so accepting of her, even if her mother takes a while to come around.
I’ve read reviews that complain about the simplicity of the language and the stereotypes (girls like skirts and makeup, etc). 1) I don’t think the language is that simple, given the target audience. And 2) maybe George is the type of girl who DOES like skirts and make up (such creatures do exist).
It’s a short read, but it’s an important one. For all the simplicity of the language, the topic is fairly complex, and I think it was a good step in the right direction.