Category Archives: Historical

Out of the Easy

by Ruta Sepetys

Out of the Easy cover imageJosie works in a bookstore and a brothel. Her mother is a whore in the French Quarter in 1950s New Orleans. Josie has no plans to follow in her mother’s footsteps. She has only one plan: to get out and go to college.

And while there are a number of people rooting for her and helping her out, Josie may not be able to escape the problems her mother has created.

 

Okay, guys. I’m just going to be blunt about this at the very beginning: I was so bored for the first 100 pages. That’s a lie. I loved the first page. But everything else: bored.

Believe me, I’m as surprised as you! First, this book has been receiving raves! Second, I LOVED Between Shades of Gray.

So, I thought about it. A lot. And I think the reason I was so bored is I found Josie to be incredibly dull. Which meant that I didn’t care about her desire to go to college. Or her desire to attend fancy parties. Or why she cared about a dude she had a five minute conversation with in the bookstore. In fact, the parts I found the most fascinating about Josie (cleaning the brothel, her relationship with brothel-matron, Willie, her care for the bookstore’s ailing owner) weren’t as focused as I wanted them to be. And if the story had focused one THAT, maybe I would’ve understood what made her so interesting?

Either way, I stuck through it and ended up loving the last 2/3rds-ish of the book. The mystery starts to kick in, and the tension ramps up as Josie continues to tempt fate. It was a slow burn, for me, apparently.

While there is romance in this book, the relationships I found most enthralling were Josie’s connections with the adults in her life. The adults vary in how they are connected to Josie, but they all are dynamic – even if they are only present on a few pages. When the romance aspect DID come up, I found myself thinking – but what’s going on with WILLIE right now?!?! Which, I can assure you, is not my normal book reaction (Team Kissing!).

There were a few plots that I didn’t care for. And while the mystery’s increased tension helped draw me into the book, I actually think the murder was a bit pointless and utterly too convenient. If things had ended just a bit differently, I probably would’ve thought differently, but they didn’t and here we are.

I did really, really, really like the secondary characters (esp. Patrick!). They had such a vivid quality, no matter if their page time was a handful or a few chapters. (I also suspect their vividness sucked the life from Josie.) I loved the varied support they provided Josie. I loved how they interacted with each other. And I loved how they all helped bring to life the mid-century French Quarter. (I could go on and on about Sepetys’ ability to writing setting. Just know that she’s a master at it.)

As I mentioned, tons of people have been loving this book. And so did I…eventually. So pick it up! See what you think!

Have a lovely one, and stay warm!!!

P.S. This was a Cybils book, although I’ve been eyeing it since it showed up at my door with that gorgeous cover and Ruta Sepetys’ name on it.

P.P.S. I promised twitter I would post this yesterday, but I got distracted writing a post about the Harry Potter love triangle that wasn’t. (DOES THIS SURPRISE ANYONE?!?!) And then I decided to wait to post THAT until the actual interview has come out. So, I guess there’s that to look forward to? But anyway, sorry, twitter, for being a day late.

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Your Flyleaf is Showing : The Diviners

Hello, people of the Internet!

Today you are witnessing a Moment In History. And by “moment” I mean a thing I finally decided to do. And by “in history” I mean it may never happen again, so it is unique.

I have created a series. For this blog. That I’m really excited about. It’s called Your Flyleaf is Showing* and this is the first entry** in the series.

What is this series about, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. It is about book binding. Not the art of. But a celebration of the books that embrace that art. That relish in it. Knowing FULL WELL the population at large will never see or embrace the love that went into it. So I want to expose this injustice! Set the Binding Free! Strip them of Their Clothing! Embrace the Hidden Book Art! (etc.)

I also will include a brief review of the book I’m covering (unless I’ve reviewed it before). It’s probably just going to be easier to dive right in. So let’s do that. The very first book in the series is (drum roll, please!):

The Diviners, Book 1
by Libba Bray

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I frequently compare this book to The Avengers because it is about a group of awesome people – with different origin stories – assembling. Set in New York City in the bustling 20s, this tome (it clocks in at just under 600 pages) kicks off Bray’s new series featuring the occult, speakeasies and awesome 20s lingo.

It is A LOT of book. And there are A LOT of people, places and things (read: nouns) the reader has to track throughout the book. Evie, who mostly serves as our main character, brings it all together as the nucleus of the story. Most of the connection threads running through the various stories run through her and she is certainly the focus of the book’s action.

What I think Bray does best in this book is merge elements of fun with elements of creepiness into the same plot. The mood of the book isn’t interrupted because there’s a funny scene or a creepy scene (and there are PLENTY of these), nor does Evie’s lightheartedness take away from her reaction to those creepy scenes.

I think the “problem” with Evie – or, at least, a problem I can see people having – is her slang. It’s like a second language, but one I found appropriate for Evie. She wants to be the bees-knees SO BAD and her language (and attitude) completely reflects it. She is That Girl. A touch annoying, a little selfish, but always well-meaning.

On the whole I really liked The Diviners. Bray’s writing is always lush and always makes me laugh. While it is the start of a series, it doesn’t leave you with that awful unfinished feeling other series have at times. Also, I hope it instills the proper amount of fear in Ouija Boards that I firmly believe all people should have.

* Title courtesy Brynne!
** And possibly the last. We all know how I roll by this point.

Keeping the Castle

by Patrice Kindle

Keeping the Castle coverAlthea, in her falling-apart-beneath-her-feet family castle, has to marry well. Not only because of the aforementioned castle, but also because her family is depending on her marriage. To be a good one. Involving a rich husband.

But just because he’s rich, doesn’t mean he’s worthy. And Althea’s witty nature is more than put to the test with the line of unsuitable suitors that are put in front her her.

This review will be brief – shocking! I know! – because it’s pretty easy to sum up my feelings about Keeping the Castle: a delightful, tongue-in-cheek nod to Jane Austen and Regency era novels about the trials, tribulations and oddities of courtship.

I struggled a bit to connect with Althea, but she’s witty, observant and always seems to be plotting. And I can admire those traits and enjoy the consequences and retorts that come from them. If I had to put a finger on what my issue was with Althea, it was how we were introduced to her: the situation came off as cold and calculating instead of witty and smart to me.

I was a big fan of the characterization of the two ugly stepsisters. (How can you not call them that?) And of all the suitors. A bit on the unbelievable side – but just over that line.

And I loved the Castle. I loved how decrepit it was. It wasn’t just gusty and starting to slightly crumble. It was seriously, 100% falling down. And yet Althea loved it. And wanted to save it.

Like I said – a fun, delightful read. (And a quick one, for what it’s worth.) A great historical read for those who may not like the flowery language of the Regency novels.

Where this book came from: galley copy from ALA

The Dark Unwinding

by Sharon Cameron

The Dark Unwinding coverKatharine has been sent to the mysterious Stranwyne Keep to declare her eccentric Uncle a lunatic, thus claiming the inheritance he is apparently squandering.

But, upon arrival, Katharine quickly realizes something is afoot at the sprawling Stranwyne Keep. And in a very unexpected way. Her investigations lead to startling revelations about her Uncle and the world – and machines – he has created.

 

This debut from Cameron was AWESOME. Steampunk-esque everywhere. Mysteries. Disappearing inheritances. Forbidden roller skating parties. Fancy dresses.

How could I not like this story?

Katharine was an interesting character. And by interesting I mean: not the type of character I normally love. Throughout a large portion of the story she’s torn between duty and freedom and she doesn’t always pick/do/say the right thing because of it. A few times I wanted to shake the living daylights out of her. One time in particular. At the beginning, I kind of hated¬† her, to be honest.

BUT. She totally won me over. She is not in an enviable position, given her station and the fact she’s female in the time period. And her acts of rebellion (both tiny and large) are quite ass-kicking.

What I really, really liked, though, was this wasn’t just a story about Katharine trying to get her inheritance from evil elder-guardian. No. There is a mystery afoot. And one that I sort of, kind-of guessed but wasn’t completely sure until the reveal. Which was awesome. It made the plot BIGGER and darker quite effectively. (There was one reveal I SO did not guess. And it made me chuckle. In a good way.)

I had one gripe: as I mentioned above, there are some epic steampunk touches in The Dark Unwinding. Which led to some technical discussions of how things worked and my brain did not compute those scenes. They kind of brought the quick plot to a halt for me a few times. But only a few. I also haven’t had a science or math class in nearly ten years, so, there is that.

Overally, I enjoyed Cameron’s debut – dark, mysterious, intriguing – and very much look forward to the sequel. (I have to assume there’s a sequel. Otherwise. Anger.)

Oh! And! You all know I love when the author includes an afterword about the book. And Cameron’s was awesome AND revealing. I spent at least an hour on Wikipedia after reading about the ties to reality. Heart!

Where this book came from: egalley from publisher
Published by: Scholastic

P.S. It has to be said. That cover! Is! Gorgeous! Esp. if you can see it nice and big (or in person). Also gorgeous? Cameron’s website. Love it.

Code Name Verity

by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity coverTold in two halves, Code Name Verity throws us directly into the dark side of World War II. The first half is a gripping, stream of conscious confession of a captured British, teenage girl spy.

The second half brings us the flip side: Maddie’s story. The spy’s best friend and pilot, ferrying planes back and forth across the British countryside.

And that’s all I feel comfortable saying.

So. Code Name Verity.

I loved this book. I really, seriously adored this book. I mean, whoa.

I’m not exactly wordsmithing this post, but here’s the deal: it is so hard to figure out what to say without giving too much away. Without completely ruining the book. So. Hard.

Here’s what I will say: I love reading books about strong, resilient teens. Specifically teen girls. I also love when those teens have flaws and do things wrong and must rise to the occasion. Code Name Verity had all of this.

But what I love most of all is when a story centers around a friendship. And Wein’s gorgeous novel is grounded in the story of two best friends. There may be a hint of a love story, but it doesn’t even matter. What matters is the relationship between these two girls and how they interact and help each other through the war.

Clearly, this is a historical novel. So, if that’s not your cup of tea, then maybe Verity isn’t for you. I’ve also read a few reviews about how the book can be boring/dragging. And I understand that, especially in Part 1. The stream of conscious writing can seem full of random, unnecessary details and suffer from a lack of editing. But let’s be real. The confession she’s writing would not have been edited. But I do get it.

Also, on the fair warning front, there are some pretty graphic descriptions of torture. So, there’s that.

I think it’s amazing, though. And how Wein handles the storyline is super impressive. This book both gutted me and gave me hope. Just a lovely, lovely read and one of my Top 5 of the year, so far.

Published by: Disney/Hyperion; Hyperion Books for Children
How I Stumbled Upon this Book: egalley provided by publisher

Middle Grade Roundup #1

Recently, I read a couple great MG books and really, really enjoyed them.

First up is a set of two short stories by the generally amazing Philip Pullman, author of The Golden Compass. Two Crafty Criminals cover imageIn this new volume, Two Crafty Criminals!, we venture into the late nineteenth century London to join the New Cut Gang on adventures of detecting and capturing criminals lurking around the South Bank.

The volume contains two adventures, both of which are enjoyable, witty and smart. Are they The Golden Compass? No. But if you’re a fan of Pullman’s other short stories, you won’t be disappointed. And, as usual, he excels at taking random events and merging them into one epic conclusion. This would be an excellent read-aloud book and will be especially timely with all the focus on London this summer.

The second MG reader I picked up recently was Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s Peter and the Starcatchers.Peter and the Starcatchers cover image This guy has been sitting on my shelf for AGES. A few weeks ago, I made a pilgrimage to the Great White Way to catch some shows and had tickets to see Peter and the Starcatcher, (Singular.) which was based off the book. Wanting to stick to my Read the Book First mantra, I finally picked up and finished this delightful tome.

For those who haven’t heard of it, it’s the origin story of the boy who becomes Peter Pan. There are pirates and fairies and orphans and islands and etc. etc. etc. It’s quite clever in how the characters of the book develop into the characters we all know and love. I was pretty impressed by it, to tell the truth. I did find it a bit slow it parts (it’s a few hundred pages), but was won over by it for the most part. I especially loved Molly and her gumption.

For the record, I ADORED the play version. A. Dored. Holy geez. It is ridiculously imaginative and wonderful and funny. If you have the chance to see it, go now. If you have the chance to see it before Christian Borle (who plays Black Stache, the future Captain Hook) leaves on June 30, DO IT. It’s a fun adaptation that remains true to the heart and imagination of the book. Loved.

I don’t often review MG books on here, but these were both fun reads and would be great for any summer reading program! Check them out!

Two Crafty Criminals was written by Philip Pullman and published by Random House Children’s Books’ Knopf Books for Young Readers imprint. I received a galley copy of the volume for review.

Peter and the Starcatchers was written by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. It’s the first book in the series of the same name. Published by Disney, I got this book from my own shelf.

Grave Mercy

His Fair Assassin #1
by Robin LaFevers

Grave Mercy coverIsmae has been branded since birth: she is a daughter of Death himself and, therefore, has been the victim of psychological and physical abuse her entire life.

She finally is given the chance to flee after her arranged marriage goes terribly, terribly wrong. And flee she does, into the capable hands of the convent of St. Mortain – where she embraces her parentage and is trained in the art of death, unaware of the burden she is accepting in her future missions.

On GoodReads, someone said in their review that while they might not like this book, they know EXACTLY who will. And I totally thought I was going to be one of those people who would.

Historical tome? Check. Girls training to be assassins? Check. Verbal sparring? Check. Royal court intrigue? Check!

Seriously, it was like lining ducks up in a row. So, I was a bit surprised when I was a bit let down by this novel and I had to do some serious thinking on what was bugging me about it.

I finally determined that Ismae was my biggest problem. While trained in the art of Death, in practicality she spends most of the book incredibly weak and naive. Which is completely understandable given the amount of time she spent shunned by her fellow villagers and then living in a convent. But still, it bugged me. Possibly because I’ve been reading so many strong female protags lately, that encountering a weak one made her seem even weaker.

She was constantly worrying about what other people would think, to the point it got a bit repetitive. Why isn’t she taking action? Oh, right, she has to consult, like, 50 people. I also guessed who the bad guy was within pages but it took Ismae 500 pages to get there.

Like I said, though, this naivete is, in all actuality, completely understandable given how Ismae was raised and her seclusion. And, as I thought about it, it was kind of intriguing: a girl is trained in the arts of Death, but so sheltered and unaware of her own mental strength, she struggles to trust herself and her gut. But that didn’t stop me from really wanting to throttle her a few times when it was PERFECTLY OBVIOUS she was right and didn’t have to consult her various peeps.

She does end up becoming incredibly strong-willed by the end of the book, which was such a relief to see. It just took so long to get there. (I could see the argument that, in actuality, the development of Ismae’s character was perfectly timed because it takes a long time to trust yourself. I agree – LaFevers did a great job making it a slow process and not having her kick ass overnight. However, it lead to some pretty repetitive dialogues about consulting people and worrying that she hadn’t consulted the right person. I’m not saying this wouldn’t really happen, just that it was a bit boring to read. In actuality, I skimmed those parts after a bit.)

Other than that very big issue (for me – I’m not sure this would be nearly the issue for other people), there is So Much to be applauded about this book (and, I assume, about the series). Grave Mercy is a Historical Novel and it takes no prisoners. I LOVED that LaFevers didn’t shy away from the political intrigue and court dynamics in a YA novel. YAs (and readers of YA) are smart! And the books written for them should be just as smart! Gorgeous, gorgeous all around.

In reality, I read this book in one sitting. All 500-some pages. It is super plot driven. (This also might be why I was so annoyed with the Ismae-worrying passages: it got in the way of the ACTION.) LaFevers doesn’t focus on the few years Ismae has spent at the convent learning, rather she moves us ahead and gets right to the killings…err…action.

I became incredibly invested in the fate of the duchess, even if the duchess seemed WAY too benevolent and perfect at times. There is one death that absolutely GUTTED me. (Although, was anyone else shocked the duchess was 13, I believe? That was..weird. Actually, I’m really confused about the ages of the characters from start to finish.) I really, really hope we get more of the duchess and her future in the coming novels and this wasn’t a storyline just meant for Ismae.

While I had some pretty big issues with Ismae, it wasn’t enough for me to not like what the book was trying to achieve. (Like I said, I was a bit disappointed. I think the whole “assassin trained in death arts” set me up on that one, even if the rest of the book’s description does explain that Ismae struggles to really figure things out.)

Honestly, of the three girls that it appears each book will feature, Ismae is/was the least interesting to me. So, I’m very much looking forward to the intrigue of the next two!

How I came into contact with this book: e-galley from publisher
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt