The Diviners (The Diviners, #1) – Libba Bray

Diviners-The-Diviners-Libba-Bray

Source: Goodreads

 

Evangeline O’Neill has special powers. She can see important moments in a person’s life just by holding something that belongs to them. This talent, of course, is not accepted in Zenith, Ohio. After a particularly bad evening of illegal drinking, the seventeen-year-old is shipped off to New York City to live with her bachelor uncle, William Fitzgerald, who runs The Museum of Creepy Crawlies, and his mysterious assistant, Jericho. Evie reunites with her childhood friend and the daughter of revolutionists, Mabel, as well as some new friends including Theta, a showgirl, and her brother Henry, a piano player, a thief named Sam, and a numbers runner named Memphis who might just be magical himself. Life can’t be the berries forever though, and before long Evie is called upon to use her powers to help stop a murderer before he raises the antichrist and wipes out all of man kind. Just another summer in 1920s New York, right?

 

I’ve heard about this book on and off since it came out in 2012, and I finally picked it up from the library in August of 2017. Definitely not disappointing! While the writing is easy to follow (except for the 20s slang, which I had to look up) and the chapters are short, the gruesomeness and maturity of the plot and characters’ thoughts definitely put this book squarely in the Young Adult category. If the reading level were a little higher I might even put it in adult, even though over half of the characters are ages 17-19.

If you can’t stand gore in your books, don’t read this. About half of the murders are detailed, and all of the bodies are described once they are discovered. If I was close to stopping my reading more the night and I knew a murder chapter was imminent, I would stop before it so I didn’t have it running around my brain all night long. Not that it really helped, because I still knew it was coming, so my brain usually decided to try and guess how it would go down *facepalm*. In that regard, I’m glad I’ve finished the book. At the same time, I’m sad to let the world go for a while until I get the next book. Bray’s version of 1920s New York City positively shines. I found myself wishing I could visit for the weekend (sans murders) to visit the theatres and clubs she describes in such vibrant detail. The buildings and the city are just as much characters as the human (and not so human) population.

If I were a cry-in-the-corner type of person, my horror-hating-soul would be doing that, because I don’t like being terrified of what’s coming, but I’m a bloody Gryffindor, and we don’t show fear, so I just marched on and kept reading. Overall, I think the horror aspects were very well balanced with the daily life in the 1920s and the mystery parts, which made me quite enjoy myself despite the demons lurking in the shadows.

Definitely pick this up if you have any interest in America’s supernatural history (I’m personally hoping one of the books in this quartet focuses on the witch trials), or if you adore 1920s period fiction, or if you liked Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, because this book is pos-i-tute-ly for you. Also, this cover is magic. I love it.

 

HHC Rating: 5 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #2 – Lair of Dreams
Book #3 – Before The Devil Breaks You
Book #4 – Untitled – TBD

The Bear and The Nightingale (Winternight, #1) – Katherine Arden

Winternight-The-Bear-And-The-Nightingale-Katherine-Arden
Photo: Goodreads

As if you all didn’t already know of my love for fairytale retellings based on my reaction to Uprooted last year, let this be a testament. In this version of the classic Russian tale Vasilisa the Beautiful, Katherine Arden reimagines Vasya as the youngest child of a wealthy trader and his late wife, who herself was the daughter of the late ruler.

Vasya is indeed beautiful, but with a wild streak. As her elder sister begins preparing to marry, Vasya’s father Pyotr realizes that there will be no women to run Vasya’s life and makes the decision to remarry himself. At his brother-in-law’s insistence, he marries a woman whose faith dictates her life, and who is nearly as young as his sons.

About this time a young priest is rising to prominence in Moscow, threatening the power of the grand duke and the tentative peace across Russia. The grand duke decrees that the priest will travel with Pyotr when he returns to the north and to serve as the regional priest.

Vasya’s new stepmother and the new priest begin implementing Christian values in place of the old traditions, threatening the ancient spirits that protect Vasya’s homeland. As the townsfolks’ faith in the old ways waivers so do the life forces of their protectors. Vasya can see and communicate with the mysterious creatures, and soon finds herself the protector of the protectors. But a greater evil lurks in the forest, and it is only a matter of time – as the old ones weaken – until it wakes and comes for it’s due.

 

Much like Uprooted did last year, The Bear and the Nightingale transported me to another realm,  another time. The twists and turns! The intricacy of the plot! The landscape itself was so beautifully depicted that it took my breath away. Arden has succeeded in creating a future classic with a permanent place on my shelf. And it’s a series! The second book, The Girl in the Tower, was released last year and the final book in the trilogy has been announced for release sometime early next year. I cannot wait to dive back into Vasya’s world: magical, dangerous, and filled with religion and court intrigue.

 

HHC Rating: 5 Stars.

 

Other books in this series:
Book #2 – The Girl in the Tower
Book #3 – The Winter of the Witch

 

 

Someone to Wed (Westcott, #3) – Mary Balogh

Westcott-Someone-To-Wed-Mary-Balogh
Source: Goodreads

 

The fallout from the death of the Earl of Riverdale continues in the third installment of the Westcott series. Alexander Westcott, the nephew of the late Earl, has struggled since his own father’s death to bring the family estate up to scratch. With the death of his uncle and the discovery of his half-cousin Anna, Alexander’s young cousin Harry is declared illegitimate, and the family title falls on Alexander’s already heavy shoulders. Not one to give up on the people who rely on him, Alexander resigns himself to attending the marriage market that is the London season in order to catch himself a rich wife to help defray the costs of fixing up two family estates.

Wren Heyden has been a recluse for almost as long as she can remember. Abused and abandoned, she found a loving home with her aunt and uncle in the country. With their passing, however, she is alone in the great house with the servants. All she has is her uncle’s glass company and the estate she grew up in – and lots and lots of money. But all she wants is marriage. At nearly thirty, she decides to buy herself a husband. After researching and meeting with all of the eligible bachelors in the neighborhood, she settles on Alexander. But he will only have her if she agrees to a ‘real’ courtship, which includes meeting his family, attending events, and going back to the one place she hoped to never set foot again: London.

 

I quite enjoyed this book. The conflict of Wren’s veils and her mostly closed-off nature with her wants and desires was fascinating. Alexander, by contrast, was less developed in this, his own book, than in the others. I almost forgot the story was taking place in the Westcott universe except that one or the other or the pair would bring up money and the earldom. This book was mostly about Wren, to be honest. Alexander felt like a vehicle through which we accessed the Westcott family – how Wren got to know them and became one of them, rather than how Alexander hit a home run on the curveball that was dealt him with the death of his uncle. I loved the peek into what Elizabeth, Abby, and Harry were up to, but I really needed more from Alexander. I felt like we only scratched the surface of him as a person.

 

***trigger warnings for child abuse in this one***

 

 

HHC Rating: 3.75 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – Someone to Love
Book #2 – Someone to Hold
Book #4 – Someone to Care
Book #5 – Someone to Trust
Book #6 – TBA
Book #7 – TBA
Book #8 – TBA

 

Someone to Hold (Westcott, #2) – Mary Balogh

Westcott-Someone-To-Hold-Mary-Balogh

Source: Goodreads

Camille Westcott had everything – a title, a fiance, a loving family… but when her parents’ marriage is suddenly found to be bigamous, Camille loses everything. Her fiance forces her to call off the wedding. She is deemed a bastard and is no longer welcome in the polite society that only days before she had been sought after to indulge in. She is not even her father’s eldest child. Stunned and heartbroken, Camille flees to her grandmother’s home in Bath with her mother and her sister, where she shuts her self away from any society that might be willing to accept her. After months spent coming to terms with being a middle child of insignificant means, she finds that her frustration with her half-sister Anna haunts her every waking moment. Too scarred still to seek out Anna’s guidance, Camille does the next best thing. She signs up to take on her half-sister’s old job as the teacher at the orphanage where Anna grew up. Exploring her half-sister’s world, Camille is finally able to see life through Anna’s eyes, live in Anna’s shoes, and maybe, just maybe even find love in the places Anna never looked.

Joel Cunningham grew up an orphan. He’s always lived in the same place, teaching art alongside his best friend, Anna. When Anna suddenly finds out her true heritage and leaves for the big city, Joel is crushed. Reading her letters, he hopes for her return until her words turn to those of love for someone else. His daily existence becomes lonely and tiresome despite the children he loves and teaches. Still harboring a sore heart, Joel is outraged when Camille takes on the teaching position that was once Anna’s. The two troubled souls find that their mutual frustration with the ripple effect of Anna’s true parentage binds them together in strange ways, and after a night of unbridled feelings, the blossoming friendship between them turns into something else altogether, just to be thrown into chaos again when Joel receives a strange letter of his own.

I quite enjoyed this book. It was interesting to see how Anna flitted in and out of the narrative, sometimes in person, but mostly in the thoughts and hearts of Camille, Joel, and the other occupants of the orphanage. The character building was all there. In fact, the majority of the plot was internal struggles that Camille and Joel had to overcome in order to open their hearts to new opportunities. Watching them grow and mature and understand their new roles in the world was fascinating. That being said, so much of the plot was internal struggle that not a lot actually happened on the outside. Watching the more secondary characters be confused about the developing romance was real and true to the plot, which only made it better in my book.

HHC Rating: 4 Stars

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – Someone to Love
Book #3 – Someone to Wed
Book #4 – Someone to Care
Book #5 – Someone to Trust
Book #6 – TBA
Book #7 – TBA
Book #8 – TBA

The Summer Before the War – Helen Simonson

The-Summer-Before-The-War-Helen-Simonson
Source: Goodreads

 

Accepting the position of smalltown Latin teacher was a no-brainer for Beatrice Nash. Finally on her own, she can’t wait to make her own money and get out from under her stifling family’s thumb and her father’s shadow. But war is looming. A great, big, world war, the likes of which have never been seen. With men signing up left and right, it’s only a matter of time before Beatrice’s students and colleagues start to head for the continent, closely followed by the new officers comprised mostly of the lesser gentry. A young surgeon and a poet, a Romani and a scholar, the war keeps its distance from no one. And so beings the summer before the war.

 

Helen Simonson does it again. The author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – one of my favorite reads of 2017 – is back with another well-developed look at England’s less viewed history, and hits her mark. The characters are well developed and engaging, as well as incredibly refreshing. A book about an Edwardian surgeon! The first women authors! Single women living alone and working a respectable job! POETS. and so, so many underlying narratives about race and sexuality. Absolutely wonderful. 10/10 would read again.

I would like a prequel about Beatrice’s life with her father and then with her Aunt. Also, a novel purely about Aunt Agatha and her husband who works for the foreign office and who I am sure does spy things. I think they’re all just so interesting!

The book itself starts out relatively lighthearted, following the main premise of Beatrice settling into the town and her interactions with the townsfolk. About 3/4 of the way through, the war is finally upon us, with dire consequences for many. Simonson wraps everything up neatly, but not before she rips our hearts out and forces us to acknowledge that not everyone can live happily ever after.

 

HHC Rating: 5 Stars

 

Other reviews for works by this author:
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

Someone to Love (Westcott, #1) – Mary Balogh

Westscott-Someone-To-Love-Mary-Balogh

Source: Goodreads

 

Anna Snow has grown up in an orphanage in Bath, where she now teaches, supported by a mysterious benefactor for as long as she stays. A letter summoning her to London is not only surprising, for she knows no one outside of Bath, but life-shattering when the identity of her benefactor is revealed.

Avery Archer, the Duke of Netherby, is only Harry Westcott’s guardian because the boy’s father died a year too early. Avery wouldn’t even have taken charge of his nearly grown step-cousin, except that his own father promised to look after Harry in the event of the Earl of Riverdale’s death. With the Earl’s death fresh on everyone’s mind, it strikes Avery as odd that the late Earl’s wife is sending their solicitor on a fool’s errand to find Riverdale’s bastard daughter and tell her that her allowance will be cut off now that her father has died. He likes the plan even less when the solicitor instead drags the girl to London and announces that she is the sole heir to the Earl of Riverdale’s fortune and that Harry and his sisters are the real bastard children.

 

 

The premise of this series is just amazing. The role reversal is definitely unique and interesting to dive into. However, the execution could use some work. I dearly love many of Balogh’s books, but not only does the Westcott series start off with one too many side plots, but the characters all fall kind of flat. I’m hoping this is a single-book-problem like we had with Ben and Samantha in The Escape. Sometimes there’s just too much plot going on for proper character development. Granted, Balogh is just churning out new books in this series, but I would much prefer that the characters were more developed than to have a new book every six months.

 

I loved Anna, I loved Camille, I loved Elizabeth, and I loved Alexander. Avery I had trouble with because of his strange history and the side plot which goes with it that just didn’t work with the rest of the story. His public self and his private self just don’t mesh well together, and it made it impossible for me to really understand him and therefore support the main relationship. Overall, I felt the book put more character development into Camille and Elizabeth than anyone else. I have the second book from the library, so I will let you know if the characters get any better.

 

HHC Rating: 3.5 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #2 – Someone to Hold
Book #3 – Someone to Wed
Book #4 – Someone to Care
Book #5 – Someone to Trust
Book #6 – TBA
Book #7 – TBA
Book #8 – TBA

Sorcery and Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot (Cecelia and Kate, #1) – Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

Cecelia-and-Kate-Sorcery-and-Cecelia-or-The-Enchanted-Chocolate-Pot-Patricia-C-Wrede-and-Caroline-Stevermer
Source: Goodreads

 

Magic is in the air in Regency England. Cousins Kate and Cece find themselves separated for the London season, with Kate off to London and Cecelia stuck in the country. Known to their family as troublemakers, it is no surprise that the distance between them can’t prevent these two from getting into a scrape of epic proportions. And it all starts when a witch attempts to poison Kate at the Royal Society of Wizards induction ceremony.

 

I picked up the Kate and Cecelia series in middle school because Patricia C. Wrede was one of the co-authors and I had just finished and adored The Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Little did I know that this series would blow me away as well! Wrede and Stevermer write back and forth in letter form in character. This was quite confusing at first, but once I got into the swing of things I forgot that it was presented in letters and simply became wrapped up in this world where magic exists alongside my favorite time period. The letter format eliminated the need for chapters, and also placed the reader in a forever-cliff-hanger so that I found myself reading quite past my bedtime because I needed to know what was going to happen next.

Kate and Cece are strong and independent female lead characters – MY FAVORITE – and the men whose problems they become entangled in are delightfully equal parts pride and chivalry.

This is one of those series that I just want everyone to read because it’s so innovative and unique. I can’t wait to dive into the second book, The Grand Tour.

 

HHC Rating: 5 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book 2 – The Grand Tour
Book 3 – The Mislaid Magician
Book 4 – Magic Below Stairs

Reviews for other works by these authors:
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles
Book 1 – Dealing with Dragons
Book 2 – Searching for Dragons
Book 3 – Calling on Dragons
Book 4 – Talking to Dragons