Tag Archives: Historical Fiction

Book review: The Diviners by Libba Bray

5 Stars. Triggers for sexual assault, murder, violence.

I love Libba Bray. It took me far too long to read her work, but now I find myself in the horrible position of running out of Bray books to consume! Despite really enjoying all of Bray’s writing, and despite having purchased the first book when it came out years ago, and despite my mother and multiple friends telling me I needed to finally start reading it, I only just picked up The Diviners. I don’t regret it, though, because I’m currently suffering a pretty brutal pandemic-induced reading slump, and The Diviners turned out to be exactly what I needed. And what is even better is that I have three more books in the series to get me through what is sure to be a bleak and lonely winter.

The Diviners seems to have everything…at least everything I love. It’s set in 1920s New York City, a time in history I absolutely love to explore. It centers on a group of misfit teens who happen to have extraordinary supernatural abilities and are called upon to use those gifts (or curses) to protect the world from dangerous paranormal beings. It’s light, exciting, full of adventure, has a dash of romance, and is also genuinely terrifying at times! The Diviners is a scary-ass book!

Evie has outgrown her town in Ohio, and when she missteps at a party–using her supernatural ability to reveal an ugly truth about the town’s golden boy–she’s sent away to live with her oddball Uncle Will in Manhattan. She accepts this punishment, gladly. Once in New York City, she resolves to make the most of it. She enjoys shopping, attending glamorous variety shows, and visiting speakeasies about town! She blossoms into her true flapper self. But she can’t seem to stay out of trouble, which puts her uncle in a tough spot. His Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult isn’t exactly the hottest ticket in town, and Evie isn’t making his life any easier. But luckily, she finds a way to make herself useful to Will.

Not long into her stay in the city, Naughty John, a brutal serial killer, starts making his presence known. Will is called to consult on the case, and Evie can’t help but get involved. What they don’t know, at least at first, is that this case will put them in the middle of dangerous occult dealings. Evie, her uncle, and her unique set of rag-tag friends have to put the pieces together to stop Naughty John’s rise to power (and subsequent end of the world as we know it).

Bray’s writing is always sharp, smart, and witty. It shouldn’t have surprised me that The Diviners ended up being very political and historically detailed, having read her other work, but Bray went above and beyond with this one. I really appreciated how politically aware it was! Classism and racism are addressed head on, with generational clashes causing tensions along the way. I’m sure this will continue with the rest of the series.

Each character is well developed and a pleasure to spend time with. It’s also nice to have a relatively diverse crew. We’re still getting to know them in this first book, but I see the seeds of a deeply connected squad growing. I love found family stories, especially if there is an element of Scooby gang mixed in!

While Bray writes for a teen audience, there is nothing simplified or glossed over about The Diviners. This series is just as appropriate for someone firmly in their adult years as it is for someone in their mid-teens. I guarantee you’ll learn a little something about history as well, no matter how old you are! This book not only kept my attention during a particularly difficult and distracting time, but it also fully delighted and entertained me. Reading usually gives me a break from the world, but lately it’s been hard to escape into a book even for a few minutes. The Diviners gave that back to me, and I appreciate it. Looking forward to picking up book two: Lairs of Dreams.

Published 09/18/2012.

Book Review: The Unsuitable by Molly Pohlig

5 Stars. Trigger warnings for self-harm, postpartum depression, suicide, infanticide, family trauma, abuse, untreated mental illness, and probably more I’m not realizing.

Image from Goodreads

Iseult is odd: awkward, nervous, strangely pale, and has a huge scar where here collarbone broke during her delivery, killing her mother. But that’s ok, because her mother now lives in that scar and talks to her, telling her what to do and how to live. In fact, her mother won’t leave her alone! The only thing that calms her mother’s voice and makes Iseult feel normal is cutting.

Iseult’s father keeps trying to marry her off, but she’s a bit of an old maid, not terribly pretty, and says very strange things at the worst times. She has no interest in getting married, but she also has no interest in living with her father either. Iseult’s father is cruel to her and can’t wait to be rid of her. Once it becomes painfully clear that Iseult will never willingly marry and leave his house, he arranges a marriage.

When he introduces Iseult to Jacob, a man with silver skin, it appears that things could maybe change for the better. Jacob is kind to Iseult, and Iseult starts to have hope. But her mother does everything she can to manipulate Iseult in ways that are confusing and selfish. Iseult must battle with herself, her father, and her mother’s voice to try to find happiness.

Most of this book is about Iseult and her mother struggling with each other. It’s full of horrible things happening to Iseult. Lies, betrayals, unnecessary cruelties. It does not end happily, but you do get some closure.

This is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s also one of the most disturbing. There were moments when I had to set it down for a second to catch my breath, but I never wanted to stop reading it. It’s just so good! I think “beautiful nightmare” describes it well. Do not read this book if you have any of the triggers attached below. They are extreme.

The Unsuitable is so beautifully written. It’s upsetting but also exciting and fascinating. You love and care for Iseult, which makes it even harder to read her tragic journey. I will buy anything Molly Pohlig writes in the future.

The Unsuitable was published 4/14/2020. Thank you to Henry Holt & Co. and Netgalley for providing an ARC. Review originally posted to @jocelyn73c Bookstagram account.

Book Review: The Tenth Girl by Sara Faring

3 Stars.

Image from Goodreads

I say with no exaggeration that Sara Faring’s The Tenth Girl contains the biggest twist and flip I have ever witnessed in fiction. This book is a slow burn that ends in the most unexpected way. In my wildest dreams, I could never have predicted what happens at about 80% of the way through. I can’t even truly review it because I don’t want to spoil anything!

A split perspective narrative, The Tenth Girl bounces back and forth between Mavi, a young woman in 1970s Argentina beginning work as an English teacher at a secluded prestigious boarding school in Patagonia (such a stunning place on this earth), and Angel, an American teen in the 21st century (I think) suffering from the loss of her family. Through a series of  events, Angel’s spirit finds itself at the very same boarding school as Mavi, and she soon learns that other spirits are hunting and feeding from the residents of the school.

Angel and Mavi make an unlikely connection but strong, and together they decide to fight the seemingly paranormal forces bent on destroying everyone and everything around them. These forces seem linked to an old indigenous Zapuche (mapuche) legend, where the tribes attempted to protect themselves and their lands by inviting back the spirits of their departed, but instead opened the floodgates of hell. The only way to quell The Others, as these destructive spirits are called, is to sacrifice a young girl.

If it seems like I’m being cagey here with details, it’s because everything I thought I knew about this book through 3/4ths of it is a lie. One of the biggest twists I have ever experienced in a book (perhaps even bigger than Gone Girl), occurs with only a fourth of the narrative to go, and from there on out it completely defies genre and expectations.

Up until that twist, I felt like The Tenth Girl was really dragging, lacking in character development, and uninventive with its plot. Most of the book, and it’s not a short book, is rather dull. After the twist, those potential faults are explained away, but I honestly don’t know if I like it any better. I wish the twist occurred sooner, and we got to spend more time acclimating to the new reality of the situation. And what Faring explores in the last ten percent of the book is more fascinating than anything that happened in the preceding ninety. I desperately want her to write THAT book, exploring the events that lead us to the conclusion and after.

Faring’s writing is beautifully descriptive, but it can drag in places. The Tenth Girl is written for a Young Adult audience, but it contains some very dark creepy moments. As I mentioned, it is hard for me to nail down an actual genre for this book, but predominantly I would say it’s a YA psychological thriller with elements of horror and historical and science fiction.

The Tenth Girl is Faring’s debut, and while I only rated it a 3/5 stars, I would definitely pick up another of her books in the future. She intrigued me with this one, and her sensational end saved it for the most part. Once you’ve read it, I’d really like to know what you all think!! It’s really frustrating to not be able to talk about the most interesting part of this book.

Published 9/24/19. Thank you to Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group and NetGalley for providing an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review. Review originally published on jocelyniswrong.com.