Review: An Enchantment of Ravens

An Enchantment of Ravens
Margaret Rogerson
Published 2017 by McElderry Books

I have to admit that I was first drawn to An Enchantment of Ravens by its lovely cover. The description made it sound rather like the A Court of Thorns and Roses series, and that put me on the fence about reading it. I read the first book in that series and enjoyed it, but I’ve never been motivated to read the rest of the trilogy, and the idea of yet another book about a sexy fae prince wasn’t really pulling me in. But I received a copy in the October Shelflove Crate, so I gave it a try. It turned out to be very different than I expected.

RavensIsobel is an artist living in a town called Whimsy. The human inhabitants of this town have a special relationship with fairies. Many of the townspeople make what is called the Craft, basically anything that involves creating: painting, baking, sewing. The Fair Folk have magic, but they cannot create anything, so they are obsessed with human Craft and many of them have commissioned 17-year-old Isobel to paint their portraits. The Fair Folk pay for Craft with valuable enchantments. Isobel is very careful in what enchantments she requests (one must be very specific or the enchantment can backfire), and she is quite popular with the Fair Folk because of her great talent.

One day, the Autumn prince, Rook, arrives and commissions a portrait. Isobel and Rook develop something of an attraction over the days that he poses for the portrait. But Isobel knows that nothing can happen between them, because love between and human and a fairy is forbidden by Fair Folk law. When the painting is done, Isobel assumes she will never see Rook again, but he returns a few days later in a rage because Isobel has inadvertently painted Rook showing human emotions, something that is anathema to the Fair Folk and puts his position as leader of the Autumn Court in jeopardy. He drags her into the fairy lands to stand trial for her supposed crime, but on their way to the Autumn lands, they are attacked and they end up going on a journey through different parts of fairy land.

This book was really delightful. I was a little worried that it was going to be instalove for Isobel and Rook, but although they’re attracted to each other while she’s painting his portrait, the relationship doesn’t really develop into love until they are running for their lives through the fairy lands. At times, Isobel finds Rook quite maddening, but it’s the sort of Mr. Darcy kind of maddening. Rook isn’t a polished, suave fairy prince. He can be abrupt and odd at times, but he’s also charming in his own way and quite funny. Take this line, for example: “It isn’t as though I’ve done it on purpose. Somehow I’ve even grown fond of your–your irritating questions, and your short legs, and your accidental attempts to kill me.”

I found the concept of Craft and the Fair Folk’s inability to create really interesting. The Fair Folk are clearly at an advantage over humans in terms of their great power, but they are dependent on humans for anything beautiful and artistic. There’s a sense of jealousy toward humans on the part of the fairies. Human emotions are alien to them, but they crave what humans create. When Isobel ventures into the Spring Court, there is a seemingly endless line of Fair Folk who want a portrait. Even though they have no magic, their Craft gives humans a small amount of power.

Another thing I liked about this book is that it’s a stand alone. I do like series, but it’s nice to finish a book and not have to worry about committing to six more books. The story felt very complete.

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Review: Fragments of the Lost

Fragments of the Lost
Megan Miranda
Crown Books for Young Readers
Published November 14, 2017

Synopsis: Jessa Whitworth knew she didn’t belong in her ex-boyfriend Caleb’s room. But she couldn’t deny that she was everywhere–in his photos, his neatly folded T-shirts, even the butterfly necklace in his jeans pocket . . . the one she gave him for safe keeping on that day.

His mother asked her to pack up his things–even though she blames Jessa for his accident. How could she say no? And maybe, just maybe, it will help her work through the guilt she feels about their final moments together.

But as Jessa begins to box up the pieces of Caleb’s life, they trigger memories that make Jessa realize their past relationship may not be exactly as she remembered. And she starts to question whether she really knew Caleb at all.

Each fragment of his life reveals a new clue that propels Jessa to search for the truth about Caleb’s accident. What really happened on the storm-swept bridge?

Initially, I wasn’t sure what to make of this book. The description made it sound like a mystery/thriller, but when I first started reading, it felt much more like a very sad book about a young woman grieving for her dead ex-boyfriend. The mystery aspects slowly revealed themselves, and I was completely hooked about 50 pages into it.

FragmentsJessa is a high-school junior, and her ex-boyfriend Caleb died in a car accident a few weeks ago. They had only been broken up few a couple of weeks, and she feels very guilty about his death because he drove his car off a bridge during a storm shortly after seeing her at her track meet. Caleb’s mother asks Jessa to clean out his room, and because she feels so guilty, she agrees to do it.

As she goes through Caleb’s things, each item triggers a memory. At first, the memories are bittersweet and mostly happy, as she remembers the good times. But as the days go on, the things she discovers in his room cause her to question everything about her relationship with Caleb. How much did she really know him? Was he keeping secrets? What really happened the day he died? With the help of Caleb’s best friend Max, with whom she has a complicated history, she tries to figure out the mystery of Caleb and come to terms with her own grief.

Fragments of the Lost was an excellent mystery. I was sucked into it very quickly, and it was a quick read for me, because I couldn’t put it down (I’m always like that when I’m reading a good mystery). I find YA thrillers a bit hit or miss for me. Often, the plots are a little simplistic and I can figure out the culprit pretty easily (a lifetime of reading mysteries gives me an edge). But Fragments of the Lost kept me guessing. It’s obvious pretty early on that there’s much more to Caleb’s death than meets the eye, but the plot takes a lot of twists, and I was as much in the dark as Jessa until the whole truth was revealed. I really enjoyed this one, and I’m interested to check out the author’s adult mysteries.

I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.

Review: Retribution Rails

Retribution Rails (Vengeance Road 2)
Erin Bowman
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt November 7, 2017

Retribution Rails is a companion novel to last year’s Vengeance Road. It’s not strictly a sequel, and according to Goodreads, you don’t need to have read the first book. So, I forged ahead without reading the first book. It’s true that this isn’t a sequel in the traditional sense, and the main characters are new characters who didn’t appear in the first book, but some characters from the first book appear in Retribution Rails and the book does contain spoilers for Vengeance Road.

Retribution RailsIt’s 1887 and the American frontier is rapidly changing because of the advent of railroads. In the Arizona Territory, Reece Murphy is an unwilling outlaw. He’s a member of the notorious Rose Riders, but he’s not an outlaw by choice. A few years earlier, the Rose Riders murdered the family Reece worked for, and they only spared his life because he may be able to lead the gang to the man who killed the gang’s former leader. He’s forced into the gang, and he quickly learns that escape attempts are futile and that he’s stuck with the gang until he can lead them to the mysterious cowboy.

Charlotte Vaughn is a young woman in search of trouble. Her father has just passed away, and her uncle is trying to steal the family business from her and her mother. He plans to force her mother to marry him. Charlotte runs away, thinking she can find some way to stop her uncle. Her life’s ambition is to become a journalist. It’s a lofty ambition for a teenage girl in 1887, but the pioneering Nellie Bly was working at this time, so the possibility was there, even if rather remote. Charlotte and Reece’s paths cross when the Rose Riders hold up the train she’s traveling on. Reece spares her life, and their lives quickly become entwined, something neither of them particularly wants.

I really enjoyed this book. It was fast-paced and exciting, and the story felt very true to the time period. I feel like the author did her homework (and the author’s note gives details about her research). There’s some exploration of what it means to be a woman at this time. Charlotte is smart and determined, but that may not be enough in a society where men have all the power.

Reece and Charlotte are both very interesting characters. Reece may be an outlaw, but he’s not really suited to the life. He wrestles constantly with the things he’s forced to do to stay alive. Charlotte is in many ways a proper young lady, but she’s also quite ruthless and thoughtless, much more so than the supposed criminal, Reece.

I loved the interplay between the two characters. She thinks he’s a worthless criminal at first, and he basically feels the same way about himself. But as their paths keep crossing and they end up having to work together, and their mutual dislike eventually turns into grudging mutual admiration. There’s none of the dreaded insta-love here. A connection does grow between them, but it’s not the main focus of the story.

Retribution Rails is a great read, and I will be checking out the first book soon.

I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.

 

Review: 36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You

36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You
Vicki Grant
Published October 17, 2017
Running Press

I should admit upfront that contemporary YA is not my favorite genre, but I was intrigued by the premise of this book. It’s based on a psychology study that claims that two subjects answering a series of 36 questions can develop a level of intimacy that can lead to love. I had heard of the study and found the idea of it interesting (the New York Times had a piece in their Modern Love column about the questions). So, the idea of a YA book based on this study grabbed my attention.

36questionsHildy is a high school senior with major family problems that she blames herself for. She signs up for a university psychology study in an effort to learn something about herself. She’s paired with Paul, who’s just there to earn $40. The experiment doesn’t go all that well at first, since Hildy is an oversharer, and Paul doesn’t take things very seriously. They only answer a few of the questions before Hildy throws a fish at Paul (it’s a long story, but the fish is an integral part of the plot) and storms out. But Paul really wants his $40, so he tracks Hildy down online and they start answering the rest of the questions, which brings them closer.

I enjoyed this one, and it was a solid 3.5 stars for me. The two main characters felt a bit like stereotypes at first (Hildy seems like an adorable, klutzy manic pixie dream girl, and Paul is a snarky loner), but as the book went on, they felt more fleshed out. Hildy’s family is imploding, and she feels powerless to help them. Paul hasn’t had an easy life, which makes him guarded and more than a little sarcastic. More than half of the book is in the form of ongoing text message conversations, in which the pair attempt to answer the questions, get easily side-tracked, and learn a lot about each other.

I enjoy epistolary novels, and I guess novels in text are the 2017 equivalent. There are a few standard narrative chapters, but most of the book is in text format. Paul is an artist, and there are going to be illustrations in the final version of the book., (Unfortunately, the illustrations weren’t in the advance copy I read, but I think they’ll add a lot to the story. I’m all in favor of the trend of including illustrations in YA books. Or non-YA books. I like pictures.)

This book is a clever twist on the typical YA contemporary romance, and I think it may appeal to readers who don’t usually read this genre.

I received an ARC for review from Amazon Vine.

Review: All the Crooked Saints

All the Crooked Saints
Maggie Stievater
Published October 10, 2017
Scholastic Press

I loved Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle books, so I had high hopes for All the Crooked Saints. I’m happy to say that I loved it.

The Raven Cycle books had magical elements, but this time, Stiefvater has gone full magical realism. All the Crooked Saints is the story of the Soria family. The Sorias live in the Colorado desert in 1962. They have the ability to perform miracles, and in each generation, there is a Soria saint who is responsible for the miracles. Pilgrims come from all over in need of a miracle, and the saint provides them. Of course, these miracles aren’t exactly the Virgin Mary appearing at Fatima. The miracles cause the pilgrim’s Saintsinner darkness to manifest physically, which leads to some very bizarre things, such as a priest with the head of a coyote and a woman who is constantly rained on. There’s a catch to the miracles: once the first miracle happens, the Sorias can’t interfere or advise the pilgrims on how to progress to their second miracle, because that will trigger the Soria’s inner darkness and Soria darkness is much worse than normal darkness. This means that the pilgrims come to the Sorias, and many of them don’t leave.

The younger generation of Sorias includes three cousins: Daniel, the current saint, Beatriz, a girl supposedly without feelings, and Joaquin, a pirate radio DJ. The three are very close, and when Daniel breaks the rules and his darkness manifests, Beatriz and Joaquin are desperate to save him, despite family opposition.

This book is really wonderful. I was captivated from the first line: “You can hear a miracle a long way after dark.” Stiefvater’s writing is really beautiful and strange and imaginative. For example:

“Here was a thing Beatriz wanted: to devote time time to understanding how a butterfly was similar to a galaxy. Here was a thing she feared: being asked to do anything else.”

At just over 300 pages, this is a fairly short book, but it packs so much into those pages. There are a lot of characters, and although some of them are only seen briefly, they’re all very distinctive (see the above-mentioned coyote-headed priest) and Stiefvater’s evocative writing makes them come alive. The focus is on the three cousins, and Beatriz is my favorite. She’s known as a girl without feelings, but she actually has many feelings. It’s just that she processes those feelings a bit differently than everyone around her. What seems to others to be a lack of feeling is actually Beatriz analyzing every aspect of her feelings before deciding how to react. She’s a fascinating character, and although this is a stand-alone novel, I’d love a book about her.

I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.

Review: The Hearts We Sold

The Hearts We Sold
Emily Lloyd-Jones
Published August 1, 2017

The Hearts We Sold had an interesting blurb, so I took a chance on it because I haven’t read a good demon book in a while. I was expecting a YA urban fantasy and hoped it would be entertaining, but this deceptively simple book really blew me away.

The Hearts We SoldDee Moreno attends a posh boarding school. Because her home life is awful, Dee found herself a scholarship and got a ticket out of her house. Then her scholarship is revoked because of budgetary issues, and a desperate Dee makes a deal with a demon so she can afford to stay in school.

Dee’s parents are both alcoholics. Her mother is kind, but ineffectual, and her father is a cruel jerk who belittles her attempts to get a good education. She avoids them as much as possible, but she occasionally has to go home, and every encounter with her parents makes it clear why she is desperate enough to make a deal with a demon.

The demon of Dee’s world aren’t scary, fire-breathing monsters. They’re human looking, albeit beautiful, and they mostly blend in, except that there’s something just a bit off about them. They’ve announced their existence to the world, and they say they mean no harm. Not everyone believes in their existence, despite the announcement, and there are lots of internet conspiracy theories floating around about what they really are. Rumors abound that people can trade a body part to demons in return for what they want most, and when Dee meets a teenager with a prosthetic arm, she learns that the rumors are true. She seeks out a demon, hoping for a solution to her financial issues.

But this demon, known as the Agathodaemon, is different than all the others. He agrees to a deal with Dee, but he doesn’t take an arm or a leg. He deals in hearts: you give him your heart for two years and serve him, and you get money or power or whatever you request in return. A desperate Dee agrees to the deal without much thought, and the demon pulls her heart out of her chest and gives her a heart made of yarn as a replacement.

Dee soon learns that she may have made a bad bargain. The demon has a crew of heartless teens, and he sends them into strange voids that open up to something, perhaps another dimension, to close them up. The true nature of the voids is a mystery to the team, but they do as they’re told because they all want their hearts back and because the voids are apparently a threat to both the demons and humanity. The voids are terrifying places, and going inside one to close it up comes with the risk of being trapped there forever.

Dee starts out as a very closed off character. While she’s at school, she has acquaintances but no close friends. She gets along with her roommate, Gremma, but they’re not close. Dee doesn’t want anyone to know how bad things are at home, and by not getting close to anyone, she avoids having to reveal much about her life. She is entirely focused on the future and making a life away from her family, and there’s no room for anything else.

But losing her heart has the unexpected affect of opening the now empty space in her chest to other people. She and Gremma grow closer, and she begins to develop feelings for another member of the crew, James, who is a talented artist. There’s none of the dreaded insta-love here; Dee’s connection to James is a slow-building one. Dee’s gradual thawing toward the possibility of friends and romance is a wonderful journey.

I really enjoyed the authors’ take on demons. They’re scary, but in a cold, sinister sort of way, not in a red-scaled, horned, demon beast of yore kind of way. I found the demons all the more frightening because they are so seemingly normal.

The book has a diverse cast of characters. Dee is half-Latino, Gremma is gay, and other members of the heartless crew are African-American and trans. They’re all fully realized characters, and the author did a good job of having a diverse group of characters who are more than just labels.

I highly recommend The Hearts We Sold. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.

 

 

 

 

Review: Sparks of Light

Sparks of Light (Into the Dim #2)
Janet B. Taylor
Published August 1, 2017 by Houghton Mifflin

Sparks of Light is the sequel to Into the Dim, a book about a secret society of time travelers. I really enjoyed Into the Dim, and Sparks of Light is a worthy sequel.

Our heroine, Hope Walton, is recovering from her terrible experiences in 12th century London. She’s found a home with her mother’s family in the Scottish Highlands, and Sparks of Lightshe’s taken her place in the Viators, the group of time travelers. He mother and baby sister are safely back in the 21st century, although her mother is suffering from PTSD from the trauma she experiences while stuck in the 12th century. Hope’s love interest Bran shows up to alert the Viators that his mother, the Viator’s evil nemesis Celia, is plotting to get her hands on a device from 1895 that could give her enormous time-traveling power, something the Viators want to prevent.

The book gets into the action very quickly, and Hope and friends are soon on their way back to 1895 in New York City, at the height of the Gilded Age. Hope poses as a wealthy heiress and stays at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where she meets such real-life socialites as Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt and the inventor Nikola Tesla. The author has clearly done her research, and I really enjoyed her descriptions of 1895 New York, where the Viators see everything from dire poverty to unimaginable splendor.

Things quickly go wrong, and some of the party are trapped in a mental institution. This part of the book is particularly harrowing. Mental health care in the late 19th century is not for the faint of heart, and the “treatments” are horrible. Some of the patients are genuinely ill, but many of them seem to be perfectly healthy people who have been shut away for being “inconvenient.” Mental health care in the 21st century still has a long way to go, but it’s light years ahead of the supposedly scientific treatments of the late 19th century. As awful as the hospital is, it’s a private hospital with some semblance of luxury. I can only imagine how awful a public hospital would have been at this time. The book really makes it clear that being a woman at this time was pretty awful (and it’s also not a good time for the one POC member of the team, Doug, who experiences some virulent racism).

I did have a few issues with the book. A new character is introduced, Gabriella. She’s an old friend of Bran’s, and although Bran show nothing beyond friendly feelings for her, Hope is instantly insanely jealous of her. Gabriella shows up at the beginning and the end of the book, and she’s really underdeveloped. Also, Hope is still mad at her mother for keeping so many secrets from her during her childhood, but this isn’t really explored. I would have liked to see a scene where Hope and her mother has things out. The villain from the first book, Celia, is spoken of often, but she never appears on the page, and we meet some new villains instead. The new villains only show up near the end, and we don’t know much about them, so they felt a little weak compared with Celia in the first book. But these are all minor complaints, and I imagine these issues might be resolved in the next book.

Overall, I really enjoyed Sparks of Light, and it made me feel very happy that I wasn’t a woman living in 1895.

I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.