Off the Shelf: A Review of The Life & Death Parade by Eliza Wass

Two years ago, I discovered Eliza Wass through her debut YA novel, The Cresswell Plot. While the book didn’t necessarily hit one out of the park for me, its author did, and I became somewhat entranced by Eliza and her story. She grew up in a strict, religious community and didn’t meet anyone outside of that religion until she interned at Disney at the age of 22. She talks more about that part of her background in this article from the Guardian, and it’s clear where her inspiration for The Cresswell Plot (here titled In the Dark, In the Woods) came from. Her bio claims “she has thousands of friends, all of whom either arrive inside dust jackets or post obsessively on Twitter”, and following her on Twitter gave me a deeper look into her writing, her whimsical personality, and her devotion to her late husband, Alan Wass of Alan Wass and the Tourniquet.

So, when I spotted the beautiful cover of The Life and Death Parade while I was at PLA, I had to snatch it up. It became one of my first must-read ARCs in a massive book haul, and it delivered the type of hauntingly eerie story that I’ve come to expect from Eliza Wass.

 

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Release Date: July 12, 2018

Summary (via 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.

 

What I Liked:

Eliza Wass has a beautiful and delicate way of tackling topics like death and grief. She has a way with words, particularly her rich imagery that paints her settings. I longed to know more about the characters, Nikki especially, because he has such a fun persona that steals every scene.

At the beginning of each chapter are featured lines from the author’s late husband, which help to set the tragic tone as Kitty searches for answers to what happened to her boyfriend and how the psychic’s prediction of his death came to pass. A variety of different relationships are explored, each shedding a little more light on how each character grieves, and I was glad that the romantic elements weren’t your typical sugar-coated YA romance tropes. The loss of Nikki haunts the entire story, and in turn the reader aches along with each of the characters in the family.

It’s a quick, enjoyable read that you can finish in just a few short hours, but it can be said that the story will end well before you want it to.

 

What I Didn’t Like:

About halfway through, I started feeling like I was missing something. Specifically, I felt as if this book had been over-edited and scenes that would have helped me to better connect with the characters and their stories had been cut. Looking back at my review of The Cresswell Plot, I wasn’t surprised to see that I’d felt similarly about that title. The Life and Death Parade is a very short, quick read, but the fast pacing will have you wishing there were slower moments to help the story build. I’m beginning to wonder if this is just Wass’s writing style or if she has an editor that prefers it this way. Either way, I wish we got to know the characters a little bit better because they seem so quirky, unique, and mysterious.

 

Overall Rating:

I was torn on how to rate this book, but I ultimately decided on 3.5/5 stars. The premise has so much potential and the cast of characters were eccentric and wonderful, but the plot falls victim to an overly fast pace. I still have so many questions and things that I want to know, which makes me wish there were at least another fifty pages or so to tell the full story. Eliza Wass continues to be an author to watch for me, and I look forward to seeing what comes next from her.

 

Off the Shelf: A Review of The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

I have other reviews that I should be writing – BUT STOP THE PRESSES! We need to discuss The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager RIGHT. NOW.

It doesn’t come out until July, but I was fortunate enough to meet Riley Sager while attending PLA, and I snagged myself a signed ARC copy of The Last Time I Lied. His debut, The Final Girls, has sat on my to-read shelf since its publication. I’m wary of overhyped books though, so its initial popularity right out of the gate scared me off picking it up. Trust me, I will soon be correcting that mistake.

As I’ve been dealing with some health issues recently, I’ve had plenty of time to read, but any book I’ve picked up, I’ve struggled to get into. Either it’s not interesting at all, interesting but just not that great, or definitely interesting but not the kind of book that’s going to hold my interest right now. It’s been disappointment after disappointment.

I wanted NEEDED a page turner. So, I went to my to-read shelf, selected one book at random, and decided to see if the first line would hook me.

Enter: The Last Time I Lied.

And that’s how I found myself unable to put it down until I’d finished reading the very last line.

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Summary (via Goodreads)

RELEASE DATE:  JULY 10, 2018

“Two Truths and a Lie. The girls played it all the time in their tiny cabin at Camp Nightingale. Vivian, Natalie, Allison, and first-time camper Emma Davis, the youngest of the group. The games ended when Emma sleepily watched the others sneak out of the cabin in the dead of night. The last she–or anyone–saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips.

Now a rising star in the New York art scene, Emma turns her past into paintings–massive canvases filled with dark leaves and gnarled branches that cover ghostly shapes in white dresses. The paintings catch the attention of Francesca Harris-White, the socialite and wealthy owner of Camp Nightingale. When Francesca implores her to return to the newly reopened camp as a painting instructor, Emma sees an opportunity to try to find out what really happened to her friends.

Yet it’s immediately clear that all is not right at Camp Nightingale. Already haunted by memories from fifteen years ago, Emma discovers a security camera pointed directly at her cabin, mounting mistrust from Francesca and, most disturbing of all, cryptic clues Vivian left behind about the camp’s twisted origins. As she digs deeper, Emma finds herself sorting through lies from the past while facing threats from both man and nature in the present.

And the closer she gets to the truth about Camp Nightingale, the more she realizes it may come at a deadly price.”

 

Things I Liked:

HOLY ROLLER COASTER RIDE, BATMAN! The number of twists packed into this plot left me dizzy. Just when I would think I was on the right track, this cart would jump the rails. It kept me guessing the whole way through, and the ending is one you will not see coming. When you think it’s over, it’s most definitely not.

I was never a summer camp kid. I don’t know if there just weren’t many camps around or if my parents didn’t want me out of their sight for that long, but either way, a sleep away summer camp is something that I’ve only ever read about. Goosebumps set me up from a young age to think of summer camps as inherently creepy (thanks very much, Welcome to Camp Nightmare, The Curse of Camp Cold Lake, The Horror at Camp Jellyjam, etc.), so Camp Nightingale really meets the mark for dark, spooky camps – haunting campfire stories, suspicious counselors, and s’mores! Pack this book on vacation, maybe take it camping…because I can guarantee it’s going to be one of the biggest books of the summer. I found myself falling in love with Sager’s writing style, and how much description was packed in to every last word. I could picture Camp Nightingale, particularly Lake Midnight and the ghost stories of its past, so clearly. Beautiful work.

I’ve said it time and time again, but if you give me a good, believable, unreliable narrator, that will sell the story for me every time. And boy, is Emma good. There were a few moments where I found myself annoyed with her, but overall, I found myself absorbed in her interactions with those at Camp Nightingale, past and present, particularly Vivian. Vivian and Emma bonded quickly when they first met at Camp Nightingale, and there a several moments in their conversations where they go beyond your typical “Mean Girls” teen girl interactions and Vivian delves into the true psyche of her behaviors to teach the life lessons she believes Emma needs. She’s twisted, enigmatic, and her motivations add to the mystery of her disappearance.

Things I Didn’t Like:

I don’t have much to report in the way of things that I didn’t like about The Last Time I Lied. There were times, like I said, that I found Emma annoying – she wouldn’t ask the questions that I thought would be natural to ask given the scenarios she was facing or she may say too much in parts where I felt it would be natural to hold back. Overall though, she was an interesting character and the story kept me guessing as to whether I should trust her or not.

I believe there was one red herring that got thrown out (and there are quite a few in this story that will have you wondering what the truth will really be), but was never resolved. However, this is a story I plan on rereading (it was THAT good) to see if perhaps I missed its resolution somewhere along the way. The story follows a crooked path, so it can be easy to get lost in the woods with all of the possibilities.

 

Overall Rating:

Without a doubt, this book is a 5/5 stars for me. It was everything that I needed it to be and more, and I couldn’t get enough. I raced through it in a matter of hours, and days later, I still can’t stop thinking about it. Go ahead and preorder it from your favorite bookstore or online retailer, because you are going to want to get your hands on this title the moment it hits the shelves. While you’re waiting, check out Sager’s debut novel, Final Girls.

Two Truths and a Lie:
1. I will definitely be picking up Final Girls in hopes that it’s even half as good as The Last Time I Lied.
2. The Last Time I Lied is one of the best books that I’ve read so far this year.
3. When I’m camping this summer, I doubt that this story will cross my mind.

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Click here to add The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager to your To Be Read Shelf on Goodreads. 

Off the Shelf: A Review of Ash & Quill by Rachel Caine

First off, let me tell you how much I NEEDED this book. In May, I finished what can only be called The Worst Semester of Grad School in all of Time and Space. I would have never thought it possible for one semester, or even just one class for that matter, to break my spirit so severely… but it happened. I reached a point in these last several months that not only did I (1) not have time to read for pleasure, BUT (2) on the rare occasions when there was time to read, I was too tired to even pick up a book. I was a mess, and I needed a little time off to recover. So, I am THRILLED to make my return to reviewing with such a stellar book from a series that happens to rank among my all-time favorites.  I received an advance copy of Ash & Quill from the publishers in exchange for an honest review, and I honestly can’t tell you enough that you need to pick up the rest of the Great Library series before book three hits the shelves!

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RELEASE DATE: July 11, 2017

Summary (via Goodreads)
Hoarding all the knowledge of the world, the Great Library jealously guards its secrets. But now a group of rebels poses a dangerous threat to its tyranny….

Jess Brightwell and his band of exiles have fled London, only to find themselves imprisoned in Philadelphia, a city led by those who would rather burn books than submit. But Jess and his friends have a bargaining chip: the knowledge to build a machine that will break the Library’s rule.

Their time is running out. To survive, they’ll have to choose to live or die as one, to take the fight to their enemies—and to save the very soul of the Great Library….

My Reviews of the Rest of the Series
Book 1 – Ink & Bone
Book 2 – Paper & Fire

THINGS I LIKED:
If, like me, you are obsessed with all things Great Library, you probably already know that the series has been expanded to be five books instead of three. I found this out shortly before beginning to read Ash & Quill, so it definitely changed some of my expectations. The ending is one that you will never see coming, and one that gives me very high hopes for the rest of the series.

One of the things I loved most about this book? KHALILA. I said in my review of Paper & Fire that Glain and Khalila were quickly becoming my favorite characters, and they definitely didn’t disappoint this go around. Khalila especially. She is so strong, resilient, and level headed. Jess makes for an interesting enough main character, but part of me would really love to see some of this story through Khalila’s eyes. Fingers crossed that maybe one day Rachel Caine will write a short story on Wattpad from Khalila’s POV…

The characters are what really make this series come alive (a close second is the vivid alternate reality established by such richly detailed settings), and I think this book really builds on who each of them are and how they respond to having no safe place left to run.  This book really reminded me why I’d initially liked Thomas, caused me to reconsider how I felt about Dario, and gave me further reason to celebrate Santi and Wolfe. Oh, and Brendan! I mentioned in my review of the second book how much I was really starting to enjoy his character and how I hoped to see more of him in the next book, and I’m thrilled at the role he played in this part of the story.

THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE:
Ever find it hard to pick out the things you didn’t like when it’s a series that you really love? I feel like I’m grasping at straws here, but at the end of Paper & Fire, I was so stoked that our little band of rebels would be heading to America in book three. We get an excellent look into the lifestyle of the Burners in Philadelphia and how the Great Library treats them, but I almost wish our crew had been able to spend a little more time in America, perhaps outside of Philadelphia, just so we could see more of what America would be like under the rule of the Great Library.

You do also have to keep in mind that this book now marks the midpoint of the series, not the conclusion like you may have originally thought. With it being the midpoint, there’s a lot of setup going on. While I feel like a lot DID happen in this book and there’s certainly moments with a LOT of action, I didn’t feel like I was on the edge of my seat as much as with the other books in the series so far. That is, until the ending… The fourth book is sure to drop us headfirst into the heart of danger, and I simply cannot wait.

OVERALL RATING:

5/5 It took me a little longer than I would have liked to get around to writing this review, but the story itself has remained stuck in my head. There are now only a few short days until its arrival on shelves (and there’s still time to preorder!). Ash & Quill really expands on the world of the Great Library and the characters we have come to love (or hate!). At times, I feel like it lost the pacing I had loved about the first two books, but it ultimately redeems that by setting up the rest of the series for unimaginable twists and turns. It’s a great continuation that has me truly dreading the wait for the next book.

 

Add Ash & Quill to your To Be Read shelf on Goodreads
Pre-Order from Fleur Fine Books for a signed copy!

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The signed poster Rachel Caine sent to me for my new office (after one of the coolest Twitter interactions I’ve ever had, thus, reaffirming to me why Twitter is the best place on the web to interact with authors). I like to hang all sorts of memorabilia from authors that inspire me in my office. Advertising The Great Library within a library – Libraryception? XD

Off the Shelf: A Review of Caraval by Stephanie Garber

I officially kicked off 2017 by reading a book that I think will be a heavy contender for my favorite book of the year – Caraval by Stephanie Garber. I’m very picky about what book I read first in a new year, so I was very thankful to have the ARC for this one waiting on me. It delivered exactly what I was hoping for – an enchanting getaway to someplace magical. Garber’s debut is a truly immersive experience into the world of Caraval, a treacherous, dark adventure disguised as a game.

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RELEASE DATE: January 31, 2017

Summary (via Goodreads)

Welcome to Caraval, where nothing is quite what it seems.

Scarlett has never left the tiny isle of Trisda, pining from afar for the wonder of Caraval, a once-a-year week-long performance where the audience participates in the show.

Caraval is Magic. Mystery. Adventure. And for Scarlett and her beloved sister Tella it represents freedom and an escape from their ruthless, abusive father.

When the sisters’ long-awaited invitations to Caraval finally arrive, it seems their dreams have come true. But no sooner have they arrived than Tella vanishes, kidnapped by the show’s mastermind organiser, Legend.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But nonetheless she quickly becomes enmeshed in a dangerous game of love, magic and heartbreak. And real or not, she must find Tella before the game is over, and her sister disappears forever.

 

Things I Liked:
I was absolutely lost in the world of Caraval, probably as much so as Scarlett. You won’t know who to trust, what to believe, what’s real and what isn’t…and then it all gets tied together so perfectly that you have to wonder why you didn’t just trust your instincts in the first place. I LOVE when a book can make you question yourself, and when you learn things at the same time as the character whose head you’ve been living inside of for 400-or-so pages.

I’m also really drawn to the relationship between Scarlett and her sister, and the horrors that they’ve faced at the hand of their father. There’s a really deep bond established between them. Having a sister myself, whom I love more than anything, made Scarlett’s desperation to recover her sister all the more real. The sisters are also uniquely different in their personalities. I enjoyed Tella’s impulsiveness, determination, and craftiness, and I really liked how selfless Scarlett is throughout the story. The abuse they’ve faced together shapes their motivations in different ways which impacts each of their decisions.

There’s a slow building romance that I appreciated for the fact that (a) it wasn’t an instant love interest (b) there’s no stupid love triangle (c) you can’t be for sure that you can trust this relationship. The question of whether or not you can trust that they both have feelings for each other or whether this is part of the game hooked me and delivered many surprises.

Things I Didn’t Like:

At this moment, I’m wracking my brain trying to think of anything that I wouldn’t have liked about the book. What don’t I like? I don’t like that I don’t already have the next one…

Overall Rating:
5/5 
This was a perfectly magical way to begin the new year. I love the adventure, the characters, and the topsy-turvy twists, turns, and thrills. This is one of those books that you will feel compelled to read all at once, and you should! I couldn’t put it down, and so I went cover to cover in just a few hours. After finishing, I was stoked to read that Caraval has already been optioned for a movie. I have a feeling that the book is going to be a big hit among readers, and I look forward to seeing the magic of Caraval play out on the big screen one day.

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While supplies last, Flatiron Books is doing this wonderful preorder promotional giveaway. All you have to do is fill out the short form at the link below and attach a photo of your preorder receipt before January 31! Check it out here:

http://us.macmillan.com/flatironbooks/promo/caravalpreordergiveaway

Off the Shelf: A Review of Scythe by Neal Shusterman

“There’s a very old expression,” Scythe Goddard told him. “To be painless is to be gainless.” He gripped Rowan warmly on the shoulder. “And I wish for you to gain much.”

Lately, life has been a little hectic, and I couldn’t be more relieved to have finally taken a relaxing little vacation. As with any vacation though, I needed something to read, and Shusterman’s Scythe definitely fit the bill. I know I’m a little behind on getting this ARC review out before the publication date (Nov. 22 – today!), but I spread it out over my trip and let myself get lost in the pages rather than racing through it to meet a deadline. Neal Shusterman writes in a way that you don’t want to miss even the smallest of details.

I have to say, I was absolutely giddy to get to review an ARC of Scythe. I discovered Neal Shusterman a few years back when I became totally engrossed by his Unwind series and the controversial themes that played out in such a dystopian setting. Shusterman is a master at crafting dystopias. Now, before you start getting all “Ugh. Dystopias are SO overdone!” – let me tell you this. These aren’t your typical post-apocalyptic YA stories about a character fighting for survival in a frightening environment created by a totalitarian government. Nope. That’s just not his style. In fact, the worlds Shusterman builds are almost ideal societies with just a small twist that make them somewhat unfavorable to the main characters. For instance, the world in which Scythe takes place, human beings have eliminated disease and freed ourselves from our own mortality, letting a virtual Cloud-on-steroids maintain our progression as a species. Scythes control overpopulation, a necessary job in this world, and a job which neither Citra nor Rowan had ever dreamed of wanting. Sounds fair enough, doesn’t it? But when the act of taking two apprentices is seen as a major controversy, particularly because of their affinity towards protecting each other, it is decided that only one will be named a scythe, and the other will meet his/her end at the new scythe’s hand.

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Summary (via Goodreads)
In a world where disease has been eliminated, the only way to die is to be randomly killed (“gleaned”) by professional reapers (“scythes”). Citra and Rowan are teenagers who have been selected to be scythe’s apprentices, and—despite wanting nothing to do with the vocation—they must learn the art of killing and come to understand the necessity of what they do.

Only one of them will be chosen as a scythe’s apprentice. And when it becomes clear that the winning apprentice’s first task will be to glean the loser, Citra and Rowan are pitted against one another in a fight for their lives

Things I Liked:

I won’t lie, when I first found out that Citra and Rowan were to be forced to compete against each other for scythedom and that one of these star-crossed lovers would have to die, part of me wondered if the ending was going to be something along the lines of Hunger Games (Spoiler alert for all three of you who may not have read it), and that they’d both just end up threatening to glean themselves or something of the like. And sure, throughout the story and through both of their perspectives, they both entertain this thought. But the glorious part? That’s not what happens. I flew through the last quarter of the book, and I did not see the ending coming. Fair warning – the last line is going to be one that sticks with you well after you close the cover.

As a female reader, I generally find more in common with female main characters, but with Scythe, I somewhat flip-flopped. In the beginning, I really enjoyed Citra’s perspective and didn’t really give much thought to Rowan, or “the lettuce” as he describes himself, the unremarkable one. When they separated for training, they both face unique challenges, but Rowan truly has to confront his own beliefs and the beliefs of his mentor. Rowan became more and more intriguing to me, to the point I actually started to root for him to be the victor. The character I enjoyed most of all though was neither Citra nor Rowan. It was Scythe Curie. Why? Because that woman gave off a total Professor McGonagall vibe, and I loved every second of it. Honestly, I’d be happy to see Shusterman write an entire book devoted to her story.

It’s brutal. Really brutal. Don’t go into this expecting something light and fluffy, because you won’t find it. The gleanings are gruesome, with death being administered in a wide variety of ways, from sword to flamethrower. One thing the gleanings are NOT though is just there for shock value. These killings/gleanings stir inner ethical debates for the readers, which may have them taking sides among the scythes.

Things I Didn’t Like:

There was a big chunk in the beginning/middle where I lost my interest in the story. I persevered, because I knew Shusterman would make it worth my while, and I wasn’t disappointed. There was just a rut where not much was happening other than the apprentices being trained, which of course gave a lot more insight into their characters and some of the secondary characters, but really, not much was happening overall. The journal entries at the end of each chapter from various scythes sort of bogged down the story for me because, if they contained any pertinent information to the story line at all, the information was often revealed to the characters in other scenes anyways.

I did enjoy that the characters seemed to come from all sides of the moral spectrum, but Scythe Goddard got particularly annoying in a lot of ways. He’s obviously the “big bad”, and at times, you can see the reasoning behind his beliefs. But in a lot of ways he’s just like what The Walking Dead tv show has done to the character of Negan – made him too over the top to where he’s constantly flaunting just how much of a jerk he is. That’s Goddard, and he earned plenty of eye-rolls as I read.

Overall Rating:

4/5 I originally believed Scythe to be a standalone novel, but then about halfway through the book, I took to Goodreads to update my progress – and it turns out, I was wrong! Scythe is the first book in the Arc of a Scythe series. My curiosity is already bubbling! Will the rest of the series be about the same characters? Or will it focus on entirely new scythes? Either way, I hope to get my hands on an early copy of book two, whenever it becomes available. I feel like this is going to be another exciting series from Shusterman that everyone should keep their eyes on. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out some of his other books, particularly my favorite – Unwind.

Add Scythe to your To Be Read Shelf on Goodreads
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