Mini Reviews: Down Among the Sticks and Bones + Not Even Bones

MiniWhoops, I meant to post this set of mini-reviews before the last, so these are very very late. I wrote this set of mini-reviews back in October, but ended up going on a little hiatus in November and so this post has been sitting in my drafts for several weeks. They were both stellar reads for me and I’m a little sad that I wasn’t able to share my reviews of them sooner. If you’re on the fence about picking up either of these series, I say throw away all your doubts and dive in now. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: Down Among the Sticks and Bones
Author: Seanan McGuire
Series: Wayward Children, #2
Pages: 187
Publisher: Tor.com
Release Date: June 13th 2017 

      “Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.
      This is the story of what happened first…
      Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.
      Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you’ve got.
      They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.
      They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.”

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“It was an uncomfortable thing, feeling like their parents weren’t doing what was best for them; like this house, this vast, perfectly organized house, with its clean, artfully decorated rooms, was pressing the life out of them one inch at a time. If they didn’t find a way out, they were going to become paper dolls, flat and faceless and ready to be dresses however their parents wanted them to be.”

Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway introduces readers to what happens to children after they step back into the real world after spending time on the other side of magical portals. Jack was instantly one of my favorite characters and after the ending of the first book, I was happy that this next book in the series covers what happened to Jack and her twin Jill when they found their magical door. The contrast between these to characters is so stark, but in Down Among the Sticks and Bones, we discover that these two girls used to live very different lives. Jill was the tomboy, always running around wild, while Jack was always too afraid of getting dirty. But this says more about their upbringing than either child as their parents had quickly made up their mind about who their children were before letting them discover it for themselves. When Jack and Jill stumble into the Moors, they are given a chance to be who they’ve chosen to be for the first time. The Moors is not a bright, happy place and the two girls grow up to be reflections of their mentors. Seanan McGuire once again impresses with her storytelling ability. It isn’t hard to fall into the story, to become invested in the characters. I cheered when Jack was able to be herself and be valued for more than how she looked and even though things work out a little differently for Jill, she was still able to do many of the things that were once barred to her. The story is heartbreaking as both characters end up losing something precious to them, but is mesmerizing in its darkness and the tragedy of twins who were never able to come to fully love the other because the adults in their life always set one against the other. 

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: Not Even Bones
Author: Rebecca Schaeffer
Series: Market of Monsters, #1
Pages: 368
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 4th 2018

      “Dexter meets This Savage Song in this dark fantasy about a girl who sells magical body parts on the black market — until she’s betrayed.
      Nita doesn’t murder supernatural beings and sell their body parts on the internet—her mother does that. Nita just dissects the bodies after they’ve been “acquired.” Until her mom brings home a live specimen and Nita decides she wants out; dissecting a scared teenage boy is a step too far. But when she decides to save her mother’s victim, she ends up sold in his place—because Nita herself isn’t exactly “human.” She has the ability to alter her biology, a talent that is priceless on the black market. Now on the other side of the bars, if she wants to escape, Nita must ask herself if she’s willing to become the worst kind of monster.”

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“I felt my head lifted up and my neck bared, somewhere distant between all the pain. Tears streamed down my face and my body twitched uncontrollably. I wondered if this would, at least, put an end to my torture.”

Rebecca Schaeffer’s Not Even Bones is a bloody romp which explores morality in a world that has little room for things like mercy. Nita has spent years dissecting bodies and helping her mother sell various parts of “unnaturals”, humans with strange abilities that can be both deadly and odd, on the black market. Nita finds conversing with the dead far easier than with the living, but this way of life has kept her in part ignorant of the world outside. When her mother returns from a hunting expedition with a living, breathing young man as a prisoner, bent on selling his body parts one piece at a time, Nita must decide what kind of person she is going to be. If you’re easily squeamish when it comes to blood or severed body parts, Not Even Bones may not be the novel for you. But if you’re like me, you’ll appreciate that Schaeffer takes her gloves off in this one, so to speak, embracing the gruesomeness of the story and testing her characters at every turn. There are no clear-cut good and bad characters in this one. Though you may root for someone like Nita, she isn’t without her flaws. But she like many of the other characters are very human. They show selective empathy, making good and bad decisions in equal measure. Sometimes they are forced to ignore other people’s pain and sometimes they even delight in it. In the end, they are just trying to survive in a world that decided they are less than human. Not Even Bones is the start of a unique and deliciously disturbing series that challenges both its characters and its readers.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

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ARC Review: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova

Title: Labyrinth Lost
Author: Zoraida Córdova
Series: Brooklyn Brujas, #1
Pages: 336
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release Date: September 6th 2016
**I received a copy of this ARC through a giveaway hosted by Armchair BEA, which does not influence my review** 

      “Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.
      Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.
      The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

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Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova is an imaginative witch novel with family ties at its heart. Alejandra “Alex” Mortiz was born into a family of witches, known as brujas and brujos. From dream walking to healing, every member of her family is full of talent. As Alex’s Deathday approaches, a coming of age ceremony, she’d like to convince herself that there is no magic in her. But Alex is special in a way that she never expected and doesn’t want. Despite knowing there may be consequences, she makes a decision to undo the growing power burning inside her. Then the unthinkable happens and Alex must learn to embrace who she is if she has any chance of rescuing her family from the limbo-like world of Los Lagos.

Unlike the other members of her family, Alex doesn’t view magic as an essential part of who she is. Haunted by an horrific experience, Alex has only viewed magic through the lenses of a very scared girl. She scared of her family’s legacy, one not just of magic but of death. While her sisters embrace their gifts, Alex is full of apprehension because all she sees is the consequences of magic. In this world, all magic comes with a price, even the simple act of healing. In her desperation to rid herself of her family gift, Alex is reckless, despite being warned by the strange brujo boy Nova. But Alex is also brave and knowing her own life could be forfeit, she dives headfirst into a land brimming with dangerous creatures and a power hungry entity determined to suck the land dry.

I really enjoyed the dynamic between Alex and her family. She doesn’t always get along with her sisters and after suffering a loss, her mother has never been the same. As a family of witches, Alex’s extended family also plays a key role in her life. I do wish more time had been spent on these relationships, but most of the story focuses on Alex’s journey through Los Lagos. Alex isn’t alone on her quest, with two companions at her side, and while there is potential for a romantic relationship, it never overshadows her ultimate goal of saving her family. I do think these relationships could have been flushed out more. Most of the time, I felt I was being told how these relationships had developed rather than being shown.

Labyrinth Lost has a magical system unique to Alex’s Latin American culture and the author provides plenty of detail to really bring this world to life. There are a couple of loose storylines introduced that I’m sure will be explored in later installments as this first shows a lot of potential.

Rating: 3/5

★★★

Jackaby by William Ritter

Jackaby by William Ritter

Title: Jackaby
Author: William Ritter
Series: Jackaby, #1

Abigail Rook is determined to make it on her own, but life hasn’t worked out quite the way she thought. Her journey has led her to New Fiddleton in 1892 with nothing more than a suitcase to call her own. Desperate to find work, Abigail stumbles upon R. F. Jackaby, a private detective who specializes in the supernatural, and who is currently looking for an assistant. When a local journalist is murdered, Jackaby is on the case, despite objections from the police. He’s convinced the murderer isn’t human and as Abigail follows, she is forced to consider that the supernatural may not just be a figment of Jackaby’s imagination.

“There had been no gasp, just the sound of shifting clutter. I stepped into the hallway to retrieve the dish. The bedroom door slammed shut at my heels, and I spun. The light beneath the door vanished , exactly as though the curtains beyond had been pulled quickly shut, and I was caught by an icy chill.”

If you’ve seen the BBC show Sherlock then you have a pretty good idea who Jackaby is in this novel. He’s abrupt in his assessments and socially awkward. The problem I had with this character was that he resembled Sherlock a little too closely. Jackaby, of course, believes in supernatural beings like pixies, banshees, and ghosts. I suppose this sets this story apart, but aside from the ghosts living in his home, most of these creatures remain theoretical.

William Ritter’s Jackaby has little instances of charm and humor, but at times it felt forced and without real substance. There isn’t enough character development as neither Jackaby nor Abigail change in any way. We are given a couple of glances at a different Jackaby than the one he presents, hinting that there is something in his past that causes him pain, but it is never explained and so the Jackaby you meet in the beginning is the same one at the end of the novel. Abigail is our main protagonist but aside from her story of how she ended up in America (we are repeated told she absconded with her tuition money and is therefore likable for her gusto), she isn’t given any real depth.

I’d like to say the storyline itself with its string of mysterious murders and even more mysterious culprit redeemed the book, but the truth is the story felt tiresome and the end was embarrassingly predicable.

Rating 2/5

★★

Burn Bright by Bethany Frenette

Burn Bright by Bethany Frenette

Title: Burn Bright
Author: Bethany Frenette
Series: Dark Star, #2

In Bethany Frenette’s first novel Dark Star, Audrey Whitticomb learned of the Beneath and the demons, known as Harrowers, that inhabit the desolate realm. Her mother, Morning Star, is tasked with fighting the strongest of these fiends who are capable of crossing over into our world. Discovering a hidden power inside her, Audrey was able to thwart the plans of the Harrower Patrick Tigue.

In Burn Bright, a new enemy has emerged, a powerful Harrower who’s disguised herself as the young Susannah. She seeks the Remnant, the Kin girl with the power to open portals, allowing the inhabitants of Beneath free access to our world. Now neutral Harrowers, those living peacefully with humans, are disappearing and Guardians across the city are being attacked. To make matters worse, a mysterious Guardian has arrived with a vengeful purpose and the link between Audrey and her Guardian Leon has gone awry. As the Guardians struggle to stop Susannah from finding the Remnant, Audrey finds herself getting closer to the truth, which is exactly what Susannah is counting on.

“I landed hard. The impact reverberated through me, even as Susannah jerked me back to my feet, turning me around to face her. Her grip was so tight on my wrist I feared she’d crush the bones. Her other hand went to my neck, squeezing–and then she lifted me, held me above her as I choked and struggled.”

One of my favorite adult characters in young adult fiction is Audrey’s mother Lucy. In a genre where adults are increasingly absent or clueless, it’s refreshing to read a book where adults are actually involved. Lucy is passionate, fierce, and sometimes very vulnerable. She is an intricate part of Audrey’s life and you can see why she inspires her daughter.

I was glad to hear more about Tink, Audrey’s boy-crazy friend, who I was pleased to discover is much more than the shallow girl she pretends to me. Frenette contrasts these two girls without belittling one or the other because of their differing personalities.

I mentioned Lucy’s fierceness earlier and it would be unfair of me if I didn’t mention the same fierceness in her daughter Audrey. This girl is extremely driven and throws caution to the wind in most situations, which can get her into a lot of trouble but I think I’d like her less if she wasn’t so audacious. More important is her refusal to let other people dictate her life, her personality is too strong and the need to find her own answers makes it impossible for her to simply accept what others tell her.

Rating: 5/5

★★★★★