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review 2015-12-09 04:05
Review: Dreamstrider - Lindsay Smith

Published by: Roaring Brook
Source: ARC via publisher
Release Date: October 6, 2015

Dreamstrider - Lindsay Smith | Goodreads

A high-concept, fantastical espionage novel set in a world where dreams are the ultimate form of political intelligence.

Livia is a dreamstrider. She can inhabit a subject's body while they are sleeping and, for a short time, move around in their skin. She uses her talent to work as a spy for the Barstadt Empire. But her partner, Brandt, has lately become distant, and when Marez comes to join their team from a neighborhing kingdom, he offers Livia the option of a life she had never dared to imagine. Livia knows of no other dreamstriders who have survived the pull of Nightmare. So only she understands the stakes when a plot against the Empire emerges that threatens to consume both the dreaming world and the waking one with misery and rage.

A richly conceived world full of political intrigue and fantastical dream sequences, at its heart Dreamstrider is about a girl who is struggling to live up to the potential before her.


I'm surprised that Dreamstrider didn't catch more in the YA blogosphere-- it's got such a beautiful message, and should overlap with fans of Shadow and Bone as well as fans of Lindsay Smith's previous novels.

On that note, the blend of religious elements, political intrigue, and magic as well as the romance should appeal to fans of Shadow and Bone. Lindsay Smith is also one of the few YA authors whose work seems to highlight political espionage. Of the books that feature political intrigue, most seem to be high fantasy, and even then few that I know of focus on espionage itself. It's wonderful. I love that element in Smith's work, and if you like Sekret and Skandal for that, you should also enjoyDreamstrider. The book builds action fast, especially given the nature of the main character's dreamstriding missions, so it's a good combination, too, of political intrigue, action, romance, and world-building.
Dreamstrider takes something as simple as our dreams and fashions an entire society around them: a dreamstrider invading other bodies while their hosts dream; temples of priests devoted to shaping the dreamworld and studying the history fought between the Dreamer (the ultimate god figure) and Nightmare (the ultimate devil figure); theories focusing on how to manipulate dreams and the dreamworld; conversations devoted to sharing each other's dreams and interpreting what messages lie within from their god; and much more. And in taking something simple, Dreamstrider also carries an empowering message - this is tied intricately to the main character's growth arc, and may potentially be a spoiler should I discuss it further, but the message of hope, of fulfilling your own dreams is a strong theme throughout the work... and that inner core is what really made the book for me.
As you may have inferred from above, I thought that the world-building was perfect. There were enough details to ground us in the Barstadt Empire (the priests, Dreamer/Nightmare, Hesse's theories, the Houses, class differences, and Writ of Emancipation, etc.), while offering us the opportunity for more in another side novella (the history of the different countries, the first battle between Dreamer and Nightmare, etc.). I've seen it said that you'll come up with more of the world than can be mentioned in your book; this is certainly true of Dreamstrider. While the world-building provided a good backdrop for the novel, so did the romance; always it remained a side plot, fueling the main character's motivation and her character arc and adding emotional intensity but never overshadowing the main plot of political espionage. Livia, the main character, underwent significant growth throughout the novel. Her position as a dreamstrider is uncertain; the Minister for whom she works holds her citizenship papers over her head. At any moment, the life she has worked for and dreamed of might crumble around her feet, but she perseveres despite self-doubt and comes to realize more about herself, her powers, and her world. I already compared Dreamstrider to Shadow and Bone, but really, if you enjoyed Alina's character growth arc and her moment of embracing the light within her, Livia's self-acceptance and self-realization may also appeal to you.
Bright with hope and inventive details, Dreamstrider tackles deeper issues like class warfare and historical constructs within an action-packed, intrigue-driven narrative led by a heroine as fierce as she is determined.
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review 2015-01-08 19:11
Review: The Ghosts of Heaven - Marcus Sedgwick

Release Date: 01/06/15
Source: ARC
Published by: Roaring Book Press


The Ghosts of Heaven - Marcus Sedgwick | Goodreads

A bold, genre-bending epic that chronicles madness, obsession, and creation, from the Paleolithic era through the Witch Hunts and into the space-bound future.

Four linked stories boldly chronicle madness, obsession, and creation through the ages. Beginning with the cave-drawings of a young girl on the brink of creating the earliest form of writing, Sedgwick traverses history, plunging into the seventeenth century witch hunts and a 1920s insane asylum where a mad poet's obsession with spirals seems to be about to unhinge the world of the doctor trying to save him. Sedgwick moves beyond the boundaries of historical fiction and into the future in the book's final section, set upon a spaceship voyaging to settle another world for the first time. Merging Sedgwick's gift for suspense with science- and historical-fiction, Ghosts of Heaven is a tale is worthy of intense obsession.


The first thing that I should warn you about: I don't think that I fully understood this book nor would I say that it is a Christina book. I'd keep these considerations in mind while reading the review below. I read and enjoyed She Is Not Invisible, but I also knew that I hadn't understood everything there either. This book is much more epic in scope than She Is Not Invisible, yet I think that is why my experience with The Ghosts of Heaven differed slightly from that with She Is Not Invisible.

This book is divided into four quarters: "Whispers in the Dark," "The Witch in the Water," "The Easiest Room in Hell," and "The Song of Destiny." As Marcus Sedgwick explains in his introduction, all four quarters are interconnected with spirals, the meaning of which is frequently questioned. This is one of those books that makes me think: idea, character, or plot/world? What drives the narratives that you most enjoy? For me, it's character. This book, to me, seems more about the idea.Several characters, several plotlines -- but it's so hard to care about every one of those plot lines and characters, and for someone who is a character oriented reader... well, that's quite simply why Laurel's journey in She Is Not Invisible was much easier for me to sympathize with. Most of the time I agree with Kirkus Reviews on how I feel about a book, but idea-books (at least) seem to be literarily very well received even if they're not as easy, for me, to read as other books are. Anywho.

"Whispers in the Dark" is a prehistoric tale of survival and the search for self-identity focusing on a girl and her tribe in sparsely told verse. I don't generally like verse - I find it hard to read, harder to feel involved in the story - but I actually really liked this story since it had the traditional elements of a young adult novel: a girl maturing (her period), a choosing sort of ceremony (what future lies ahead), threats to her identity, conflicts between wants and needs (learning about the magic her elder uses and doing the job that she was assigned), etc. But, as much as I enjoyed the story, I couldn't identify with the girl. It's amazing how a simple thing like a name can affect your reading experience so much yet undoubtedly naming the girl would not have fit with some of the prehistoric feel and would have limited some of the scope.

"The Witch in the Water" - well, it's obvious what this is about, no? Reminded me of The Crucible, but with more focus on the old New England type village and a changing third person past perspective. I can't talk about this one fairly; it was my least favorite of them all, and that has nothing to do with how Marcus Sedgwick wrote the story. I cannot tolerate stories about sexist times, like accusing a girl of witchcraft just because you can. Because she didn't return your affections, or she is the object of affection from someone you like, etc. Or you're a priest set on "rooting out evil." BLERGH NO. I'm pretty sure my hatred of this story type bled into me not being able to notice as much about the spiral pattern here too.

"The Easiest Room in Hell" - through the eyes of the new assistant superintendent at an asylum, we learn about a poet who knows more than he's letting on about everything. The last two stories were my favorites because things started to get creepy. The first person perspective of this allowed for me to care about the superintendent even as I was horrified again by the story type (the way they treated patients in asylums back in the day! a story type that I do not like to read any more than I do of witch trials). As the superintendent grew fascinated with the poet, so did I. If nothing else, read this story and the last story. Marcus Sedgwick also begins to tie all the spiral patterns together and so through this story, I started to care more about the idea of the spiral pattern. Plus the horror and suspense helped.

"The Song of Destiny" - Told in third person present tense, it focuses on Bowman, one of the sentinels who act as guardians of the 500 passengers headed to colonize another world. There's a lot of fascinating world-building here and this lends the book its science fiction flair. Clearly Marcus Sedgwick did research on space travel and astrophysics, etc. Once you get past the first chapter, the plot of the story picks up; and this story probably has the most shocking revelations of all four plus the final threading together of what all the spirals mean.

The spiral is life. The spirals are thought-provoking. I probably will not be able to look at a spiral in the same way after reading this book. I also greatly admire how Marcus Sedgwick switched writing styles and PoVs throughout the book, and with great finesse too. There's no doubt that this is a well-written novel. If you're looking for something more literary oriented and different from other YA that you've read because of its genre-defying epic scope, you've found your treasure here.

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url 2015-01-08 18:58
Giveaway: ARC of Stone in the Sky - Cecil Castellucci; Willowgrove - Kathleen Peacock [Hardcover]; and Twisted Fate - Norah Olson [Hardcover]

Hello, everyone! I hope this Monday finds you well. Are you anticipating the release of Stone in the Sky by Cecil Castellucci? You should be! Here are my initial thoughts about the book, and stay tuned for my review next month :). In addition to giving away my ARC of the second Tin Star book, I'm giving away hardcovers of Willowgrove (Hemlock #3) by Kathleen Peacockand Twisted Fate by Norah Olson, which I received from the publisher but which I personally will not have time to read and which y'all should get excited for! YAY FOR MORE BOOKS.


Follow link for giveaway!

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review 2014-06-05 17:50
Mini Review: The Truth about Alice - Jennifer Mathieu
My mini review of The Truth about Alice by Jennifer Mathieu, a young adult contemporary novel narrated by four teenagers who all have different opinions on the bullying and slut-shaming of their classmate, Alice Franklin, published by Roaring Brook Press on June 3, 2014.

The Truth about Alice - Jennifer Mathieu | Goodreads
Source: ARC

Everyone knows Alice slept with two guys at one party. When Healy High star quarterback, Brandon Fitzsimmons, dies in a car crash, it was because he was sexting with Alice. Ask anybody. Rumor has it Alice Franklin is a slut. It's written all over the "slut stall" in the girls' bathroom: "Alice had sex in exchange for math test answers" and "Alice got an abortion last semester." After Brandon dies, the rumors start to spiral out of control. In this remarkable debut novel, four Healy High students tell all they "know" about Alice--and in doing so reveal their own secrets and motivations, painting a raw look at the realities of teen life. But in this novel from Jennifer Mathieu, exactly what is the truth about Alice? In the end there's only one person to ask: Alice herself.

1. For those of you who might be concerned about reading this because it seems too dark -- I'd say worry not. It is a book with an important message and it is dark at times, but there's a story line running parallel everything bad being said about Alice. And that story line is brilliant, beautiful, and speaks to the power of second chances and acceptance. It has its humor and makes the book less depressing to read while still adding onto the layers of discussion.

2. Again to those of you who might be concerned -- worry not because the book is well-written, paced well, and a short, quick read with important messages. The pacing is brilliant. Jennifer Mathieu nailed the voices of all these individual teens. There are a lot of PoVs, but I never once questioned whose PoV I was reading. The writing was easy to read and smooth. The writing helps make this book a quick read, which is excellent because it has a lot of discussion starters without those dragging the book down.

3. It's true that the characters have a bit of that stereotypical edge - the synopsis describes them that way too. But Mathieu did a great job at making these characters and the setting come to life regardless. Further into the book, the characters come into their own while still remaining the type that feel realistic, that you might meet a block away from your house. Mathieu even humanizes Brandon Fitzsimmons and makes him seem realistic, and I hated that douchecanoe (though he's not alone in the shaming process).

4. And last but definitely not least, this is a seriously important book to read. At the time that I am writing this, #YesAllWomen is still going strong on twitter. One of the tweets constantly seen is that if a woman says no, she's called a bitch; if she says yes, she's called a slut. This book is a good primer to starting the discussion on this with young adults. It tackles bullying, slut-shaming, and the social strata of high school. Second chances, the effects our words have with and without our full knowledge. Everyone seems to notice Alice's big boobs and her raspberry colored lips. She's still not asking for anything either.

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review 2014-03-31 18:07
Review & Giveaway: Sekret - Lindsay Smith

Ten Likes/Dislikes:

1. (+) Yulia, the protagonist - Although we start off with something kind of typical, the ration rat girl who's forced to make black market deals to keep her brother, mother, and herself alive, it was still easy to sympathize with Yulia. From the start, she had a sort of self-reliance and determination that made her fierce and a wonderful main character to follow. Sometimes in stories with supernatural powers, I worry that the character is going to be too much of a Chosen One type, but Yulia is refreshingly human. She makes mistakes and learns from them. She is a teenager in an extraordinary situation. It was beautiful to read about her character growth, learning to hone her powers and deciding what was most important to her in this broken world.

2. (+) World-building - Where Sekret excels is in its world-building and setting/atmosphere. It is clear from the start that Lindsay Smith has researched a lot about Russian culture - I feel like I've learned a lot by reading this novel, and not in an overwhelming way - and her focus on psychic powers adds a layer of intrigue that takes the novel in sometimes unexpected ways. The thing that I liked the most about the world-building was how Smith handled the powers of the Sekret teens. I grew to understand more about their powers - how Smith showed them to us - and how well they complemented each other in an unhurried way. You also learn more about the basis for the powers.

3. (+) Romance - I'd read somewhere or heard from someone that this included a love triangle, and I'm inclined to disagree with that as it's made pretty clear early on where Yulia's affections lie. The romance neatly complements Yulia's own character growth and never overwhelms the main plot. What I personally liked most was the intensity of the romance. Because Smith does a great job at building this atmosphere and world filled with paranoia, it made me eager to see how Yulia and her romantic interest would get to know each other. How eventually their secrets unravel in a beautiful, aching way that fits with the themes and the general setting.

4. (+/-) Plot - From thrillers I expect some level of unpredictability, but unfortunately I predicted most of what was going to happen here. Not all, but most. If the book had been more focused on Yulia's character and her growth, I might not have noticed this as much. And sometimes there was repetitive narration on the characters, some of the same revelations about who they were, that I personally wasn't feeling. However, despite my complaints, I still enjoyed the novel. None of this *significantly* took away my enjoyment of the novel.

5. (+) Setting/History/Atmosphere - In WriteonCon 2012? 2013? a video from a bookseller talked about how sometimes she got historical fiction requests from teachers because they'd wanted their students to read more on / get excited about history. Something like that. And this is the sort of novel I would give them because it's already succeeded in making me interested in learning more about the Cold War era in Russia. I already mentioned how Lindsay Smith excelled in world-building, but it bears repeating. This was by far my favorite part. All the details Smith included really helped bring me not only into the culture, but also into the scene and the attitudes of the characters. And the way everything was strung together -- it flowed so well, and really added a wonderful atmosphere throughout the novel.

6. (+) Themes - So maybe music has been used elsewhere as an expression of tension between romantic couples, but I loved the new layer Smith added to that tension, here with its role in blocking out thoughts. Beautiful way of joining world and character and theme. Loved the emphasis on new beginnings and family (Smith did a good job of making Yulia's comments on her mother and brother feel authentic, despite their lesser page time). And I love how this novel, despite being rooted in the past, has a lot of situations that we might apply to modern themes and commentary.

7. (+/-) Characters - If I had two wishes for Sekret, they'd be to pack a little more plot into this novel to avoid the predictability and/or repetitive bits, and find a way to make the characters shine a bit more. The characters have a lot of potential. I liked them well enough, but never felt attached, and this is the sort of novel I *know* I would have LOVEDLOVEDLOVED if I felt more connected. Was it terrible character building? NO, not at all. They are intriguing, secretive people, and maybe this is the sort of thing that gets expanded on in the sequel?

8. (+) Writing - The writing is just so, so lovely. I already mentioned my fondness for the atmosphere and that would not have been possible without Smith pulling the strings in a beautifully orchestrated way. I'm going to read something from her in the future for sure.

9. (+) Pacing - The synopsis mentions the first plot point, and Smith does not waste time before putting Yulia in her difficult situation. From then on, there are clearly distinct parts and enough action to match the main plot points of those... stages in Yulia's situation.

10. (+) The Cover - I'm a huge fan of this cover and can't wait to see what they will do with the cover for the sequel. (Isn't this an image directly from the book too? One of the propaganda posters (DON'T TELL) that Smith mentioned?).

Teachers, if you'd like to get your students interested in Cold War Russia, this is a wonderful novel. Full of atmosphere, a well-researched setting, a beautiful, tender romance, and a main character who's as real as she is fierce, Sekret is sure to engage its own mix of paranormal and historical fiction readers.

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