Review | The Diviners | Libba Bray

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The Diviners

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Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.

Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.

As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened.


The first thing you need to know is that it took me two tries to get into this book and finish it, with two years in between attempts; the reason being that you really have to be in the mood to commit to this long-winded book. I also think you need to prep yourself for Evie—she’s a handful both as a character and for the reader, with her flapper-speak and over-the-top-ness. I think you also need to approach this book knowing that she’s an immature character, and that it was definitely an intentional choice for Libba Bray to write her that way. Once you’ve readied yourself for all those factors, you’re good to go.

I originally gave this book a 4 out of 5 because I enjoyed reading this book. If you’re willing to let go and just enjoy the ride, you’ll likely feel the same as me. However, in retrospect, I have some thoughts.

The first issue I have with this book is the glaring historical plot hole. What do you think the chances are of seven young characters, who are mostly thrown together by happenstance, all being excessively liberal-thinking for the time period and readily accepting the non-white or non-straight characters? Based on all of my university history classes of New York during the 1920s, the answer is that the chance is incredibly, incredibly slim. Sure, this is fiction. But I still need to be able to believe it. And when I’m sitting there, the entire time, remembering that this is fiction, yes, but historical fiction… It’s like if someone wrote a book that took place during the Salem Witch Trials, in Salem, with witches, but there was no mention of the trials or the dangers they faced—I’d be like, nah bro. That’s not happening—it’s a glaring oversight. And while I wish that, historically, everyone had been accepting and liberal-minded, that just wasn’t the case, and I think it’s actually a disservice to not make a point of the fact that it wasn’t, and the injustice of it all. The closest we get is the mild concern that Theta and Memphis have over how their relationship will be judged, but there lacks the weight behind it that should have been there. I think we all need to remember that characters like Memphis could have been lynched for openly having a relationship with a white girl. THAT’S the time period this book is taking place in, and yet those factors are completely ignored.

The second issue I have is that this book could easily have been half the size. So much page space is wasted to unimportant prose that has little to nothing to do with the main, or even secondary, plot elements that it’s baffling. Where was the editor during the creation of this book? This colossal, 500+ page book could have been 300-400 pages without sacrificing a single bit of the adventure or suspense. What would the book be without, then? Here’s a sampling: Evie’s goodbye to her old friends before leaving to New York (she never mentions them again nor stays in touch with them after her move); summaries of her initial outing with Mabel; Mabel chickening out of getting her hair bobbed; Evie listening in on Uncle Will’s lecture (a short summary would have sufficed); the outings with Theta and Mabel; Mabel deciding to get her hair bobbed; the whole scene (chapter?) where they are at an illegal club and it gets raided. Just a few examples.

My third issue, and I’m trying to avoid any spoilers here so it may be confusing to you if you haven’t read it, is that the “secret” about Jericho’s character is so incredibly out of place to the rest of the story. In a book about magic and fantasy, we randomly—and towards the end, and in a way that feels inauthentic—have sci-fi plunked into the plot-line like it’s no big deal. But like I said, it feels random and inauthentic. My actual reaction was: “What the heck? Why?” So there’s that.

Finally, and most important, is that I have no need or desire to read the next book. It’s not that I actively don’t want to, but The Diviners left off in such a way and place that I feel just sort of “meh” about continuing the series.

After giving myself time to think about this book, I’m changing my rating to 3. It’s just not good enough to get a 4 from me. I’m glad I thought about it, though, before posting a review because I think the points I made are important things to consider before you pick it up. It’s a huge time investment, and I’d rather you spend your time on a book you’ll really love. Let me know your thoughts!


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Review | The Storyteller | Jodi Picoult

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The Storyteller

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From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Small Great Things, My Sister’s Keeper, and House Rules comes an astonishing and complex novel that proves some stories live forever.

Mourning the passing of her mother, Sage Singer decides to attend a grief support group. She doesn’t expect to start an unlikely friendship with an elderly man also attending. Josef Weber is a beloved, retired teacher and Little League coach. Together they attempt to heal.

But one day he asks Sage for a favor: to kill him. Shocked, Sage refuses but then he confesses his darkest and long-buried secret, one that irrevocably changes Sage’s worldview. She suddenly finds herself facing questions she never expected, such as what do you do when evil lives next door? Can someone who’s committed a truly heinous act ever atone for it with subsequent good behavior? Should you offer forgiveness to someone if you aren’t the party who was wronged? And most of all, if Sage even considers his request, is it murder or justice? The Storyteller explores these issues and more in this “profound and moving novel about secrets, lies, and how the power of stories can change the course of history” (Shelf Awareness).


The back cover copy (which is what I’ve posted above) doesn’t do a summary of the story justice. Sure, it was enough to reel me in and make my buy my first Jodi Picoult novel since high school with the promise of something OTHER THAN a sick kid and a court case, but it doesn’t tell you this: The Storyteller is a novel about the Holocaust. 

The novel shows the reader four perspectives: Sage’s, Josef’s, Leo’s, and Minka’s. If you follow me on Goodreads, you’ll know that when we first switched perspectives, I complained. I take this back. First off, Jodi doesn’t do it as frequently as she has in the other books I’ve read by her. Secondly, I could have gotten lost in Minka’s perspective for all eternity, and we don’t hear from her until the very middle of the book. Minka’s story is that of the Jewish ghettos and concentration camps of the Holocaust.

If you’ve never read any prose on the Holocaust, fiction or otherwise, then this will likely be a hard book for you to stomach. It is very emotional and raw. By all means, don’t let that deter you, though. Jodi Picoult has written here another one of the great novels that needs to be studied by generations to come. I’ve studied, extensively, WWII and the Holocaust in high school and university, so while this book didn’t make me cry because I knew what to expect, it did teach me a lot about humanity and empathy. The question central to the story is this: Is evil unforgivable, even if the person who committed that evil repents their sins? I believe the novel ends with the answer being that no, evil–especially evil such as the Holocaust–is unforgivable, but please let me know if you disagree. I also think that the novel presents the circumstances in a way that force that conclusion, but I could envision scenarios in which such evil could at least come close to being forgivable in individual circumstances. If you’ve read the book, perhaps you know what I mean. Importantly, Minka does an excellent job of underlining that blaming an entire group of people for evil done by only some of that group is wrong, and thus she emphasizes that the Germans are not the ones to hate after the Holocaust because that would make her just as bad as the SS Nazis that imprisoned her.

As I write this review, I’m trying very hard not to give anything away, because there are twists and turns at literally every corner of the story. Believe me when I say that Jodi Picoult has changed my opinion about her as a writer to a much better one and that I’ve learned so much from this novel. I’m glad I waited to read this when I did, though, because the mass-market trade paperback, and the cover, were a really great format to read it in. I think this particular cover is the best one of any edition I’ve seen and relates best to the story arch that Jodi takes us on.

Why only 4 stars? I was disappointed by the ending, for two reasons: 1. I saw that final twist coming, and in fact predicted it in the first quarter of the book, and 2. It ended much too abruptly. I do find it interesting, though…and let me try to say why without spoilers. Hmm. I think that, with this ending, Jodi is asking us if we can forgive one of the main characters for what they’ve just done. Is this main character any better than some of the other characters in the book, or the same? Have they committed evil? Does it make them a monster? Does it overshadow any of their other qualities as a person? So while I felt the ending was abrupt and thus disappointing, I do think Jodi’s purpose was for us to ponder these questions. Had she gone much further with the story, she may have started answering them herself. 


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Review | The Winter Crown | Elizabeth Chadwick

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The Winter Crown

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It is the winter of 1154 and Eleanor, Queen of England, is biding her time. While her husband King Henry II battles for land across the channel, Eleanor fulfils her duty as acting ruler and bearer of royal children. But she wants to be more than this – if only Henry would let her.

Instead, Henry belittles and excludes her, falling for a young mistress and leaving Eleanor side-lined and angry. And as her sons become young men, frustrated at Henry’s hoarding of power, Eleanor is forced into a rebellion of devastating consequences. She knows how much Henry needs her, but does Henry know himself?

Overflowing with scandal, politics, sex, triumphs and tragedies, The Winter Crown is the much-awaited new novel in this trilogy and a rich, compelling story in its own right.


Every now and then I am lucky enough to come across a true gem in my reading pile that makes me feel as if, until that moment where I turn to the next page and realize I’m immersed in something really special, I have been plagued by mediocre stories and sub-par reading material. The Winter Crown is one of the books that did that for me.

How do you “review” a book that you loved and basically inhaled? You don’t. You talk about it instead. I’m sitting here racking my brain, trying to come up with anything negative to say, and there’s nothing. My brain becomes a blank. Everything about this book was enjoyable and well worth the $15 I spent on it.

For those of you who don’t know the history: Eleanor of Aquitaine was first married to Louis VII of France at a very young age; she bore him two daughters, but no sons. Eventually their marriage was annulled based on the fact that they were deemed to be too closely related (everyone married their cousins back then!) and Henry II of England asked for her hand in marriage, which would secure England Aquitaine through marriage only–one of Eleanor’s many conditions to her marriage to Henry was that she would maintain sole rule of Aquitaine. She also had to give up all communication of her two daughters and basically act like they never existed at all. And here this novel begins.

It’s important for you–my audience–to know that I didn’t read the prequel to this novel, nor did I need to. As the Goodreads description says, this novel is a perfectly good story in its own right, separate from its trilogy, but now that I’ve read it I do want to go back and read the first one, and then eventually get my hands on the third. In addition to reading everything else by Elizabeth Chadwick, of course! Oh, her writing is so good. This single novel covers twenty years of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s life but it never feels rushed. At first, when you’re not even halfway through the book and Eleanor has birthed five children, it might feel a bit fast, but upon reflection I feel that Chadwick gave each detail the appropriate amount of time to tell the story interestingly and successfully. Condensing the twenty or so years that Eleanor was married to Henry II into one novel in fact serves to strengthen the image of Eleanor as one of the strongest queens in English history, and a role model for myself. She accomplished so much during her time as queen! When I look at the size of the novel and think about all that it contains, I’m astounded that Chadwick was able to fit so much history, personality, and regality onto such few pages. Truly, truly remarkable–and here I refer to both Eleanor and the author.

One of the aspects of Chadwick’s writing that I found most interesting was that she actually never delves too far into any character’s headspace–meaning we don’t hear much of Eleanor’s day-to-day thoughts–but simultaneously manages to write vivid, complex, and surprising characters. I’d always thought that it was necessary to constantly be deep inside a character’s head to truly get to know them but Chadwick has taught me that isn’t the case. It’s very hard to describe the way in which Chadwick writes the characters and their descriptions…without quoting directly entire pages from the novel as an example. But let me say that it was something both odd, because I wasn’t used to that form of character building, but also insanely interesting. There was a reason I kept reading, everybody!

I can’t believe I’m finished reading it already. I really enjoyed my time with this book. Something I would also enjoy would be if the author went back and wrote more books that took particular moments in history from within this novel and wrote them in lengthier detail. Not necessarily from Eleanor’s perspective because that might feel redundant, but perhaps from Eleanor’s best friend Isabel’s perspective, or even Henry’s. Luckily Chadwick has dozens of novels for me to dive into when I need to quench my thirst for historical fiction!


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Top 5 Books That Changed My Life

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Since finishing The Book Thief last winter, I’ve struggled to find a book that gave me the same feeling of wholeness. The other morning I reflected on that feeling and thought back to the books that marked a special place in my heart. I want to share that list with you, and hopefully these titles can give you the same happiness I had when I read them!

book thiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This book struck such a chord with me that I have never found the words to review it. For me, it’s perfect. I can’t believe there was once a time where I picked it up in the bookstore, read the first page and thought, “Nah, this isn’t for me.” I suppose certain books find me at the right time in my life, and this is one of them.

Read it in the winter. Especially if you live somewhere where it gets cold and grey–this story really encapsulates that atmosphere. A sad story, yes, but one full of hope and promise that I couldn’t help walking away from it feeling glad and inspired.

 

moth diariesThe Moth Diaries by Rachel Klein

This book was an important part of growing up and branching out in terms of my reading selections. It’s a very dark story, and one that I wouldn’t introduce to someone at too young an age (I was 13 when I read it), but it taught me important lessons about sex, consent, mental illness, and LGBT+ relationships. I was engrossed with this book when I read it, despite how disturbing it could be, and I will always remember being sucked into these pages like falling through the door to Narnia.

 

 

 

bamboozledBamboozled by David Legge

It was while my grandparents read us Bamboozled that I fell in love with storytelling and the wild adventures that fiction can take us on. If you’ve never read it, or have kids of your own, I highly recommend adding it to your collection.

 

 

mockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The first classic I ever read, in the eighth grade I didn’t understand a lot of what was being said in this story about race but I identified with Scout and Jem’s adventures, their fear of their neighbour Boo Radley, and the admiration they had for their father. I was enraptured by the legal issues woven throughout the story despite not quite understanding them and remember the duration of reading as yet another time when I was oblivious to the world around me and instead existed in a haze of To Kill a Mockingbird‘s words.

 

 

 

rose for the crownA Rose for the Crown by Anne Easter Smith

This book was, by far, one of the biggest literary undertakings I’ve ever faced. There are no chapters–instead the reader faces straight prose for 700 pages. But that prose! I was in love with this book in the way you fall in love and get lost in a painting or sunset. In changed my opinion on King Richard III and inspired me to get a B.A. in history.

I have since tried to read more by this author, but all of her prose is the same lengthy endeavour and I haven’t had the time necessary to commit to her stories properly. If you do, though, I’m telling you that it is so worth it!

 

 

What books changed your life? Tell me in the comments below! 🙂

Review | So You Think You’re a Millennial? | Jo Hoare

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So You Think You’re a Millennial?

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Discover how the life of the Millennial is a non-stop mix of selfies and startups, Kardashians and kale, kombucha and crowdfunding, anxiety and activism, experiences and entitlement.
Do you feel as nervous about your life prospects as you are about securing the last available table at your favorite brunch spot? Are you equally outraged by the myriad injustices in the world as you are by changes to Instagram meaning your selfies won’t be seen by your followers? If the answer is yes, then chances are you are a Millennial. So what exactly is that? If you were born between the early 1980s and the turn of the century (give or take), then it’s you. This hilarious guide, which features profiles and observations of this most self-interested of generations, plus a series of fun quizzes, will reveal exactly what it is that makes a Millennial tick, from freaking out about rent prices to checking out the latest BuzzFeed listicle.


This little book was such a joy to read! Honestly, I don’t know how it hasn’t been all over social media or Buzzfeed given its pure, unadulterated and hilarious attack on the millennial generation. Full disclosure, I am part of that generation, and reading this book was so much fun. The profiles in this book are of course exaggerated, but I was able to see little bits of myself in every profile, and was even able to peg my friends (but don’t tell them that!)

So what are some of the things you’ll find in this book? Apart from the wonderful illustrations, you’ve got such profiles as The Wellness Addict, The Perpetual Intern (that was me for a loooooong time), The Basic, The Mean Geek (my boyfriend), The Brunch Obsessive (me now), The Armchair Activist, The Fitspo Bore, The Crafter, The Makeup Obsessive, and so many more! I loved them all.

It’s clear Jo is a people-watcher, and also not a millennial. Otherwise these pages would also be dotted with her tears.

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Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed herein are entirely my own and in no way reflect those of my professional associations and affiliations. 

Review | What Does Consent Really Mean? | Pete Wallis, Thalia Wallis, & Joseph Wilkins

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What Does Consent Really Mean?

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“Consent is not the absence of ‘NO’, it is an enthusiastic YES!!”

While seemingly straightforward, Tia and Bryony hadn’t considered this subject too seriously until it comes up in conversation with their friends and they realise just how important it is.

Following the sexual assault of a classmate, a group of teenage girls find themselves discussing the term consent, what it actually means for them in their current relationships, and how they act and make decisions with peer influence. Joined by their male friends who offer another perspective, this rich graphic novel uncovers the need for more informed conversations with young people around consent and healthy relationships. Accompanying the graphics are sexual health resources for students and teachers, which make this a perfect tool for broaching the subject with teens.


My feelings for this book are complicated. On the one hand, I love that this conversation has been made so accessible and in such a cool way (graphic novel format). I also appreciate how straight-forward the message is, rather than hiding it within subtext. At the same time, I was taken aback by just how straightforward the message is; if, like me, you thought there would be an actual narrative here, with the message explaining consent, then you’ll be disappointed. It’s my feeling that this novel lacks a narrative entirely. It’s very much like those “moral lesson” books you were given in elementary school where the characters are basically having a dialogue explaining the concept you were meant to learn. There isn’t really a storyline, a plot, a climax, etc. The book is solely argumentative.

I see the merits in this for sure, especially for school age kids. However, this was another point on which I struggled; the subject matter is at times appropriate for all ages (and I definitely think it should be made to be—let’s teach our kids what consent means as soon as they learn to talk!) but there were other times where the content was definitely more mature, with swearing and semi-explicit discussions of sexual relationships, that I would never feel comfortable giving to, say, an eleven-year-old to read. On the flip side, the artwork definitely depicts the characters as younger. Even while they were swearing and talking about their sex lives, I was looking at the drawings of the flat-chested girls with baby faces thinking, There’s no way these girls are older than twelve. Yet the actual verbal content of the book suggests that they are much older than twelve.

Overall, I really appreciate that a book with such a straight-forward approach to the topic of consent has been made available, but I think there is some confusion as to the age group of the audience. I also think the author and publishers will see less success than they hope because of the lack of a narrative; it feels very much like a lesson book, and I foresee this only being read by kids if it’s mandatory.

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I received a free digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed herein are my own and do not reflect my professional associations or affiliates in any way.