ARC Review: The Life and Death Parade by Eliza Wass

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Release Date: June 26, 2018

synvia Goodreads

One year ago, Kitty’s boyfriend Nikki Bramley visited a psychic who told him he had no future. Now, he’s dead.

With the Bramley family grieving in separate corners of their home, Kitty sets out to find the psychic who read Nikki his fate. Instead she finds Roan, an enigmatic boy posing as a medium who belongs to the Life and Death Parade–a group of supposed charlatans that explore, and exploit, the thin veil between this world and the next. A group whose members include the psychic… and Kitty’s late mother.

Desperate to learn more about the group and their connection to Nikki, Kitty convinces Roan to return to the Bramley house with her and secures a position for him within the household. Roan quickly ingratiates himself with the Bramleys, and soon enough it seems like everyone is ready to move on. Kitty, however, increasingly suspects Roan knows more about Nikki than he’s letting on. And when they finally locate the Life and Death Parade, and the psychic who made that fateful prophecy to Nikki, Kitty uncovers a secret about Roan that changes everything.

From rising star Eliza Wass comes a sophisticated, mesmerizing meditation on the depths of grief and the magic of faith. After all, it only works if you believe it.

review3.5/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Disney-Hyperion 

When I first started reading this book, I was struck by the style-it’s like The Great Gatsby meets Rebecca and has dinner with The Diviners. There’s something whimsical, yet dark and Gothic about the word choice and overall atmosphere of the book-because that’s what was created here, an extensive and powerful atmosphere of mystery, magic, and yearning. 

Here’s the thing, while I have an English degree and love the classics, I’ve never been one for magical realism. Something about it feels false but to tell this story, it was the perfect choice. The Life and Death Parade is unsettling. It will make you question what is real and what is cleverly promoted through lies, smoke, and mirrors. There are many times when it seems you’re on the verge of answers but when they come, they’re to a different question or not all what you expected. And some things are started and left unfinished. Whether it was an intentional decision or not, it’s as much of a mystery as the truth itself. 

There’s a kind of lazy, upper-class entitlement that threads through the book. Like Holly Golightly in male form. The characters are…eclectic and not exactly likeable. They did have unique, if odd, personalities. I wish I would have liked them enough to become invested in their future, but really, I just cared about the story itself. 

The plot was intriguing. It sucks you in and holds you prisoner. You need to know what happened and there are so many possibilities. I loved the blend of magical, traveling performers, and praying to specific saints for favors. The Life and Death Parade is a culture in itself and so cool. There’s a New Orleans vibe set in the English countryside. The crafting of altars, psychic readings, and sensationalization drags the reader right into that world, and begs them to question whether they believe and how much it matters.

At its heart, this is a story of grief and trying to process how it happened after the fact. The characters are lost in the past and don’t know how to move forward because of their tragic loss. They all mourn in different and arguably unhealthy ways because they were waiting for closure that would not come on its own. 

I liked that there wasn’t really an in-your-face consuming romance, but one that hummed beneath the story and yet was the entire foundation for the events that occured. 

All in all, this was a strange, enjoyable read. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this: 

Read on, 

Jordan

 

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ARC Review: The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu

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Everyone who really knows Brooklyn knows Devonairre Street girls are different. They’re the ones you shouldn’t fall in love with. The ones with the curse. The ones who can get you killed.

Lorna Ryder is a Devonairre Street girl, and for years, paying lip service to the curse has been the small price of living in a neighborhood full of memories of her father, one of the thousands killed five years earlier in the 2001 Times Square Bombing. Then her best friend’s boyfriend is killed, and suddenly a city paralyzed by dread of another terrorist attack is obsessed with Devonairre Street and the price of falling in love.

Set in an America where recent history has followed a different path.

review3/5 Stars 

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via FirstToRead & Penguin Teen

+++This book does contain mature situations that may not be appropriate for younger teens

PROS:

  • Some parts are gloriously awkward in the way that only first love can be. Others are a question, a struggle to define, and a learning process of how to understand and share intimacy in the many ways it presents itself. There are all aspects of love in this book and often it evolves, transforms, and rebuilds after loss, tragedy, and heartache. Sometimes the love you thought you wanted is nothing like you imagined. Sometimes love has a time and place and no matter how hard you fight for it, it’s a losing battle. Cringe-worthy, provocative, and eye-opening. 
  • Sex positivity. Girls that are comfortable with their bodies, their passion, and willingness to express themselves sexually. Sure, there’s judgment from others but this expression of love is seen as natural and necessary.
  • There are a number of beautifully lyrical and blunt truths that feel like revelation. Perceptions on love and what it means to be in love, to be loved, and to give love shift within the story and as the main character goes through each phase, we experience it right along with her. The confusion, the hurt, the yearning is all there in full force. This is also an ode to loss and the many ways we deal with the empty after. 
  • The premise itself is interesting, though I would hesitate to call it magical realism like many other readers and reviewers have. There’s enough belief in the curse to influence every aspect of the people’s lives who live on this street. That strength in belief is its own form of magic and carries incredible power. It’s quirky, it’s weird, and a little unsettling. The lemons, the windows being left open, it was all fairly ritualistic and earthy. In my Goodreads status updates I tried to encompass the feeling of this book through comparatives: 
    February 17, 2017 – page 75

     

    26.04% “Still undecided. It kind of reminds me of The Graces meets Tell Me Something Real and then there’s little Practical Magic meets The Sun Also Rises. If you think that sounds interesting, check it out. Still not sold though.”

     
    February 17, 2017 – page 25

     

    8.68% “So far I don’t know how to feel about this book. It feel like it’s set in the 70s or 80s, it’s super literary, and thoughtful. While there are things in here that suggest alternate history and local mythology, I’m not sure I want to read more.”

CONS:

  • The pacing. For a story so interesting and poignant, it’s one of the slowest I’ve ever read. And insanely short. For so much story it felt unfinished. It lacked development that could have made the ideas and atmosphere stronger.
  • I didn’t really care for any of the characters. While there were unique and I appreciated what they were going through, I struggled to leave my post of indifference. I pushed my way through the story hoping to feel for the characters, but my heart was with the words, the ideas, not the individuals living it. 
  • The ending. So much happens in those last few pages and it’s certainly jarring but left things feeling unresolved and random. It didn’t add up. It felt rushed, incomplete, and did not fit with the rest of the book. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Read on, 

Jordan

 

ARC Review: Worlds of Ink and Shadow-Lena Coakley

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synCharlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne. The Brontë siblings have always been inseparable. After all, nothing can bond four siblings quite like life in an isolated parsonage out on the moors. Their vivid imaginations lend them escape from their strict upbringing, actually transporting them into their created worlds: the glittering Verdopolis and the romantic and melancholy Gondal. But at what price? As Branwell begins to slip into madness and the sisters feel their real lives slipping away, they must weigh the cost of their powerful imaginations, even as their characters—the brooding Rogue and dashing Duke of Zamorna—refuse to let them go.

Gorgeously written and based on the Brontës’ juvenilia, Worlds of Ink & Shadow brings to life one of history’s most celebrated literary families.

review3/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Abbrams/Amulet Books

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I have an absurd, almost neurotic obsession with the Brontës, more specifically, Anne. When I saw the Brontë tagline, I had to have it. I nearly convulsed with excitement. Who am I kidding? I was positively giddy. Immediately, from the very first sentence, I was held captive by this stunning glimpse into the Brontë childhood and their marvelous, fanciful stories. Imaginary worlds, magic, folklore, and history all combine for a lovely re-imagining of the famous Brontë siblings. 

PROS:

  • That dark, almost Gothic Victorian feeling is in abundance. You’ll feel like you’ve been transported into a Brontë or Austen novel. The rich, dreary scenery and melancholy is quite a diversion. 
  • Verdopolis and Gondal are mesmerizing, exhilarating worlds full of intrigue, scandal, and villains. Just the sort of seedy, criminal underworlds and upper-class mischief that sweeps you up into the story. Rogue is a suave rascal, full of gruff comments and spur of the moment adventures. Think Captain Hook. 
  • The underlying folklore aspect and magic is a compelling twist that will keep you guessing. 
  • Each POV is unique. You see the Wuthering Heights in Emily’s devilish attraction to danger and the rush she gets at the corruption. Matters of the heart and soul are her forte. She’s a vivacious and excitable young girl full of wonder and imagination. Charlotte is a bit stuck up and proud. She knows she has skill and feels jilted that her brother gets all the attention. At the same time, she’s a major control freak. All of these quirks you’ll find parallel the true Charlotte and more. Anne is perceptive, realistic, and reigns in the insanity <3. Branwell was a surprise. Many people dismiss his talents and forget about him. I was rapt at Branwell’s gritty and adventurous storylines. All in all, Lena Coakley did a stellar job channeling all the Brontë spirit and personality. The complex and layer relationships between siblings were full of subtle understanding and love. 

CONS:

  • Because the story is told from four different POVs it moves a little slowly; that, on top of the fact that they live on a moor without much to do besides menial tasks or escaping into their fantasy worlds. 
  • A lot of the story is bickering and jealousy between the siblings (mainly Branwell and Charlotte). Topics that could have been explored, like Branwell’s overwhelming sense of responsibility and pressure or Charlotte’s heartbreak that she’d never be able to succeed in a male profession were brief and quickly jumped over for the next subject. 
  • There’s a big disconnect between the worlds the Brontës create and reality, even through they function within and around one another. Each Brontë has an affinity towards an imaginary character that sort of pops up all of a sudden and becomes important. It was difficult to make a solid emotional connection to most of the Brontës because the story flipped back and forth without delving into their passions beyond the imaginary world and subtle favoritism among siblings. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

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Magical reading, 

Jordan

Review: Belzhar-Meg Wolitzer

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cooltext1712921505 copyIf life were fair, Jam Gallahue would still be at home in New Jersey with her sweet British boyfriend, Reeve Maxfield. She’d be watching old comedy sketches with him. She’d be kissing him in the library stacks.

She certainly wouldn’t be at The Wooden Barn, a therapeutic boarding school in rural Vermont, living with a weird roommate, and signed up for an exclusive, mysterious class called Special Topics in English.

But life isn’t fair, and Reeve Maxfield is dead.

Until a journal-writing assignment leads Jam to Belzhar, where the untainted past is restored, and Jam can feel Reeve’s arms around her once again. But there are hidden truths on Jam’s path to reclaim her loss.

From New York Times bestselling author Meg Wolitzer comes a breathtaking and surprising story about first love, deep sorrow, and the power of acceptance.

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3.5/5 Stars

Belzhar is a book that lingers. It invades and settles deep within the subconscious, burrowing and waiting to make its move and when it does, it’s something profound. I picked up Belzhar, honestly, because I kept hearing about it. The hype was everywhere and though I had no clue what the book was about, I  remembered the name-it was imprinted on my mind. When I started this book, I knew absolutely nothing about it (I rarely read the synopsis before I pick up books, I’ll read just about anything) and was pleasantly surprised. I found myself puzzled, yet oddly curious about Jam’s story. Nothing was cut and dry, everything was a little mysterious, but one thing I knew for sure was that Jam was scarred and scared emotionally, to the point of losing herself. I wanted, no needed, to see her recover. Belzhar is a slow and steady story of discovery, of finding your inner voice and learning that you don’t need to shout to be heard, that sometimes a whisper, if you are firm in your convictions, is enough touch the universe. 

PROS:

  • Belzhar is a little Dead Poets Society meets Catcher in the Rye. There’s a magic feeling of being part of something much bigger than yourself, something secret and wildly personal, something that connects the characters with each other that can’t be found anywhere else. 
  • Mrs. Q. was absent from the text. Her part, one extremely influential, the catalyst that connected and sparked these lucky English Special Topics students’ road to recovery and adulthood, was lax. She hardly appears in the story but even though her lessons are short they’re astronomically life-altering bits of wisdom that have a staggering impact on each character. Mrs. Q was so hands off that she became like a mythical, surreal entity, almost like a subconscious voice that aided the children. 
  • Jam was hard to like. She’s so self-involved that she can’t get past her own issues, everything in her life revolves around this horrible thing that happened to her that she neglects her brother, shrugs off her friends, and lets the world fate into oblivion. Jam collapsed in on herself and while the whole scenario is upsetting, delving into Jam’s true emotions was difficult at first. Jam was wrapped up in a fantasy world that at first, it’s the sort of rip your heart out of your chest and shun the world agony of loss. You couldn’t help but pity her, the injustice and cruelty of life is magnified as her heartbreak continues to reveal itself. Later, you’re presented with a conflict and it’s hard to decide which is more sad, the truth or the lie. Jam finds herself and as her compassion blossoms it’s like an awakening, Jam is reborn, stronger both emotionally and mentally.
  • An important element of this story that I think is looked over or maybe just not yet recognized by the reader is the view on trauma. More often than not, horrible life events are looked at comparatively, almost as if in a competition to see whose pain was worse, which incident the more haunting. Here, each story is unique, one is not worse than the other because emotionally, they were all traumatized and the scope of the trauma was unimportant. I appreciated that trauma was trauma, pain was pain, and that the scars were still there, one was the same as many and the depth of the cut was irrelevant.
  • Belzhar is a romance but not in the conventional sense. Belzhar is the tail-end, the romance that is liminal. It’s still present but realistically it’s over. It’s the memory of the romance that cannot be shaken or tucked away. It’s an ever-present, gaping wound that has festered and polluted. However, it almost seems symbiotic. Though Jam suffers, she receives pleasant relief and recalls the romance fondly. Romance, on one hand is the focus, the foundation of this book and yet, it’s not blatant, in your face, love. There’s no build up, it simply is. The results of the romance are what matters and how Jam chose to deal with it is of paramount importance. 
  • Love can be toxic, crippling, and can devastate in such a way that it’s too much to handle and it feels as though happiness will never come again. Meg Wolitzer captures the dark side of love, the consuming rawness of the emotions and the light, soul-searing side, that brings ecstasy to the couple. 

CONS:

  • Sylvia Plath is dark, morose, beautifully emotional writing. As the plot evolved, I got it, it made sense that these teens would be the benefactors of Plath’s wisdom because in many ways, their sense of isolation, of bitter regret, and disconnect are what Plath channeled and understood, perhaps better than anything. What was missing from this story was the literature. Plath was mentioned, she was read and mulled over but the poems and The Bell Jar itself was neglected. It was almost as if the author expected the reader to be knowledgable of Plath’s works. At face value, these five teens are aspects of Plath but the reader doesn’t get that confirmation and the story might have been enhanced with Plath’s voice. For a book that is all about finding that voice within, the most important one felt stunted and forgotten.
  • Sierra (ish), Mark, Casey, and Griffin (not as much) each had their own unique story but after it was revealed, their characters fizzled out and lacked the presence they had in the beginning of the book. Their interactions were glossed over and didn’t capture the growth and change each of them was going through, it was more like a summary. Suddenly, the characters were ready to move on, they got over it, and what made that happen, apart from the journal incidents, was left in the dark.
  • Jam’s truth was not a surprise. In fact, it was inevitable and predictable.

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

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Happy reading,

 

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