Book Review: The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters

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I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

There is a troubling undercurrent rumbling beneath the surface of the town of Elston, Oregon, and it’s particularly troubling for Hanalee Denney, a sixteen-year-old daughter of an African-American man and a white woman. Hanalee’s dad Hank was murdered last Christmas by a drunk driver, Joe Adler, and a few months later, Joe is out of jail and back in town. To add to the grief his return is causing Hanalee, the Ku Klux Klan is breeding fear and hatred across Elston in their attempt to “purify” Oregon of everyone who isn’t white, Protestant, American-born or heterosexual. Hanalee’s friends are abandoning her one by one, and her father’s alleged murderer is suddenly claiming that the man who actually killed Hanalee’s father is the town doctor who tried to save him and who happens to be Hanalee’s new stepfather. Does Hank Denney’s ghost, or a “haint” hold the answers Hanalee is so desperate to find? And will she be able to solve the mystery and to cope with the devastating results that she finds?

 

My readers probably know by now that I believe that it’s impossible for Cat Winters to ever write a bad book. “The Steep and Thorny Way” is definitely her best book to date – and the darkest. I’ve been known to spend hours in front of a Cat Winters book and finishing in a day. The same happened when I started “The Steep and Thorny Way” – thankfully, it was a weekend so I didn’t have to go to work. The novel is gripping. It’s devastating. And it’s honest and real. The emotions are very, very, real.

Winters’ fans know all about her talent to masterrfully convey the atmosphere of a setting in writing, and in “TSaTW” the reader can’t help but feel as though they are also a part of Elston, Oregon of the 1920s. Unfortunately, that setting has little beauty in it. It is very scary to think about the fact that the travesties described in the novel occurred less than a hundred years ago. Every page is saturated with despair and sadness of those times and thanks to Winters’ writing talent, the reader feels them as much as the characters. Hanalee, Joe and their  families are devastated by what is happening in their town, but they are the kinds of characters that don’t give up. Hanalee, for instance, is fully aware that there are few good things awaiting her in the future if she stays in Elston, but it doesn’t deter her from pursuing her dreams of becoming a lawyer. She is kind, smart and compassionate, despite all the atrocities American laws and Elston society put her through on a daily basis.

The novel is marketed as a retelling of “Hamlet” – one of my favourite works of Shakespeare. In a way, it is – you can see it in certain passages and characters. And of course, the murder most foul of the novel initially seems to parallel that of “Hamlet”. However, nothing is ever what it seems in Cat Winters’ books, and “TSaTW” is no exception. Given the setting, I knew that the solution to the mystery was not going to be a happy one – plus  “Hamlet” is a tragedy for a reason. It was, however, nothing I expected it would be and all the more devastating for it. Winters uses paranormal elements as plot devices quite a few times in her books, but they are only there to further highlight the devastation and the hatred that was a big part of those times. “The Steep and Thorny Way” uses these scary elements in a manner similar to “Hamlet”, but other than that, the fear we feel in this book comes from the villains that were very real. There is little need for additional fantasy elements – history provides us with enough source material for antagonists. Hanalee and Joe are in constant danger because of who they are – a biracial girl and a homosexual young man. Ku Klux Klan, eugenics and general prejudices not only prevent Hanalee and Joe from living carefree lives, but they make them constantly fear for their very lives. Things are somewhat better today than they were back then, but diseases like racism, xenophobia and homophobia are unfortunately still a very big part of our society. And this is why we need diverse books like “The Steep and Thorny Way” – to remind us that these disgusting things occurred not so long ago and that prejudice and discrimination are something to be fought on a daily basis.

“The Steep and Thorny Way” is emotional, gripping and absolutely amazing. I cannot wait for my next Cat Winters! My rating is 8.5/10. Once again, my only issue with Cat Winters’ books is the lack of sequels!

 

Favourite quotes:

“Hate is a powerful demon that worms its way into the hearts of fearful men”.

“I think love and wrong are two deeply unrelated words that should never be thrown into the same sentence together. Like dessert and broccoli.”

“Candlelight cast such a delicate beauty. It flickered with emotions and warmed one’s skin and soul”.

 

Recommendations:

You might like “The Steep and Thorny Way” if you liked:

“The Diviners” by Libba Bray

“Hamlet” by William Shakespeare 

“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

 

Book Review: Lair of Dreams (The Diviners, #2) by Libba Bray

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I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. My review for the first book in the series can be found here

 

Warning – this review contains spoilers

After falling in love with yet another book by Libba Bray in 2013, I spent the last two years yearning for the next installment and needless to say, I was thrilled when NetGalley approved my request for the ARC of “Lair of Dreams”.

The book picks up sometime after “The Diviners”, and our Evie O’Neill is now a radioshow celebrity, with a title “America’s Sweetheart Seer”. On the surface, she seems po-si-tu-te-ly thrilled with her new role, but as always, nothing is ever as it seems with Libba Bray’s books. Her fallout with “Unc” Will and Jericho isn’t helping anybody, and only Theta and Henry can see that. Or, and Sam Lloyd can too.

Life might be a party for Evie O’Neill but it’s completely opposite for the working class of New York. Not only are they faced with racism and xenophobia every day, but they are also becoming victims of a mysterious “sleeping sickness”. People just seem to die in their sleep and they never wake up. Since The Diviners are the current “trend”, they don’t have to hide anymore, but not everybody is so accepting of their abilities. Can they, with all the obstacles facing them, defeat the sleeping sickness or will they, too, fall into the lair of dreams and become mere ghosts of the New York City? Or will their past get them before they can even try?

 

I’ve waited for “Lair of Dreams” for a long time, and I’m happy to say that it sucked me in from the very first page. However, unlike “The Diviners”, which I read for 9 hours straight and finished in a day, the second installment took me a few days. Firstly, it’s quite a long book, even longer than “The Diviners”. Secondly, and I never thought I’d say this about a book by Libba Bray, “Lair of Dreams” felt long. Several pages’ worth of description added to the overall spooky atmosphere of the series, but there were times when I wanted to get to “the good stuff” faster. Fortunately, the pace picks up about 50% in, and it soon becomes clear that this book serves as a set-up for the third and fourth installments – which is excellent news, although I wish I didn’t have to wait another two years! But that’s the trouble with falling in love with a series – waiting is part of the package.

Was “Lair of Dreams” just as scary as “The Diviners”? No, but that’s not to say it was a boring ride. The villain wasn’t Naughty John’s level of creepy, but they were more compelling and just as interesting. One thing I’ll say for sure – I was quite scared to go to sleep every time I put the book down before bed!

I’ve said in my review of “The Diviners” that the atmosphere might be the best part of the book, but the characters are a close second. The good news is, Libba Bray spent quite a bit of time re-introducing us to most of our favourites and giving us more of their backstory. The most elaborate ones were Henry’s, Will’s, and Sam’s. We learnt a lot about them and the questions I had at the end of Book 1 were answered, to an extent, but now I have even more questions! Sam Lloyd, you said it – “Every time we get one answer it leaves us with twelve new questions”.

We are also introduced to a new member of The Diviners crew – Ling Chan, a half-Chinese half-Irish science aficionado who forges a close friendship with Henry and helps him find his old lover, Louis. I quite enjoyed reading her chapters and I’m looking forward to more of her interaction with other characters. Reading about the racism she faced was not pleasant at the slightest, but we should all remember – “we have rights as human beings“. History doesn’t paint a pretty picture, but let’s hope we can incorporate that quote into our daily lives and remember it well.

I do have one issue with character chapters in this book – my favourite characters from Book 1 had very few chapters. While Evie still remained the protagonist of the series, Memphis Campbell had only five chapters, if that. Based on my previous experience with Libba Bray’s books, I’d say that this means he’s going to die, and that would be absolutely awful! I loved him and his relationship with Theta, but given the ending of “Lair of Dreams”, the bliss might be short-lived. That’s what I want from the next installment – more Memphis and Isaiah! And the mystery of Blind Bill to be solved. And many other mysteries to be solved. And The Divinevengers to take down the new Big Bad and live to tell the tale. All of them.

“Lair of Dreams” was one of my most anticipated books of the year, and while it wasn’t as amazing as “The Diviners”, it was a great set-up to the big finales! I give it a rating of 8/10.

P.S.If you don’t want to know a major spoiler, please skip the next paragraph:

SPOILER The best thing I learnt from “Lair of Dreams” isn’t that Sam Lloyd is a better man than we gave him credit for. Nor is it that Uncle Will Fitzgerald is much more shady than I thought. It’s that I finally have confirmation that “The Gemma Doyle” series and “The Diviners” series take place in the same ‘verse! Read “Lair of Dreams” to find out more. END SPOILER

 

Favourite quotes

“For dreams, too, are ghosts, desires, chased in sleep, gone by morning. The longing of dreams draws the dead, and this city holds many dreams”.

“And dreams are like a library card, if you will, that provide access to this great archive of shared symbols, memories and experiences”

“We are a democracy, sir, and Diviners are evidence of that democracy and of the proof that all men and women are created equal. For these gifts have been given in equal measure to people of all races and creeds, regardless of sex, whether rich or poor”

 

Recommendations

You might enjoy “The Diviners” series if you liked:

“The Greaty Gatsby” by F. S. Fitzgerald 

“Daisy Gumm Majesty Mysteries” by Alice Duncan

“The Cure for Dreaming” by Cat Winters

“Supernatural” TV series

 

Have you read “The Diviners” series? Do you love Libba Bray as much as I do? Please let me know in the comments! 🙂

Book Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray

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After devouring the feast that is The Gemma Doyle Trilogy, I was left longing for more books by Libba Bray. Unfortunately, the only book that has so far been published in the UK is The Diviners, so I requested it in my local library. I feel I should tell you that I accidentally read it for 9 hours straight yesterday, forgetting all the things on my to-do list! I don’t normally review series but since the next book isn’t out until August, and I loved it so much, I am reviewing it.

This book is set in the 1920s America – the era of the Great Gatsby, flappers and foilers, the years of Prohibition, the time when American dreams came true… The whole “things are not what they seem” and “all that’s gold does not glitter” themes which are very prominent in “Gatsby” can also be seen in “The Diviners”. Evangeline O’Neill, or Evie, has a gift. She can tell a person’s life story just from touching something that belongs to them. After pulling a stunt like that at a party in her small hometown in Ohio, she ruins a rich guy’s relationship and her parents send her to New York to live with her Uncle Will Fitzgerald who works at The Museum of Creepy Crawlies (unfortunately, entirely fictional). Her trip doesn’t start smoothly – upon arriving to the Big Apple, she gets her money stolen by a handsome devil (not in the literal sense as far as we know) Sam Lloyd who is posi-tu-te-ly smarmy and kind of a douche. However, things turn around once she is in the museum and meets her Uncle, her penpal Mabel and an odd, pensive Jericho who works for Uncle Will. Naturally, what’s a girl to do in 1920s New York? Party, of course! She befriends her glamorous neighbours – Theta, who is a star in the Ziegfield show and her roommate Henry who is a future world-class renowned pianist. However, something puts a damper on Evie’s partying. A series of occult-like murders shake New York City and what victims seem to have in common is strange symbols on them and certain body parts of theirs missing. The NYPD asks Evie’s uncle to consult since he is kinda like the Robert Langdon slash Rupert Giles of the 1920s and knows all there is to know about “freaky stuff”. Evie, Jericho and Mr. God-knows-where-he-came-from-but-Evie-is-convinced-he-is-up-to-no-good Sam Lloyd who suddenly pays a visit to the museum and Uncle Will gives him a job help Uncle Will with the case and Evie’s gift eventually comes in handy.

Meanwhile, a young poet named Memphis is trying to live his life as a normal twenty-something romantic – go to parties, meet girls, and secretly dream about being invited to the infamous poetry clubs and gatherings. However, he is burdened by his own gift that seems to be failing him. Also, there is his brother to think about – is he gifted like Memphis is? Or is he possessed by the Devil? And why is their blind neighbour acting so strange?

What Evie, Memphis, Theta and others don’t know is that they are in more danger than they realise – Naughty John is out and about and he will not stop until The Beast is released…

Libba Bray does not disappoint. Like I said, I spent all of yesterday’s afternoon reading The Diviners, as soon as I acquired it from the library. I didn’t think I would like it at first, because I am not the biggest Gatsby fan, but don’t let that put you off if you feel the same way! The Diviners is amazing. I know from my description it seems that Evie is the centre of the story, but Memphis, Theta, Jericho, Sam and others are just as amazing and interesting as her. It was also the first time since “The Thirteenth Tale” that I’ve been scared out of my wits while reading a book – I jumped when my friend rang the doorbell! Libba Bray is an amazing writer and a master at immersing you into the book’s atmosphere – I felt that way while reading The Gemma Doyle Trilogy, but she does so with The Diviners to an even larger extent. I realised only on page 500 or so that this was going to be a part of a series, which made me immensely happy!

Obviously a lot of research went into the book, and you really do feel like you’re roaming the streets of flappers’ New York. Don’t let Naughty John get you though – you can hide in a speakeasy and watch the dancers while drinking gin! Bray doesn’t brush off the negative aspects of the era either – racism was still very prevalent then and the Americans had a mentality of “America is for Americans” and The Chinese Exclusion Act as well as the Immigration Act were coming into force then. To quote Libba from author’s note – “Often, the monsters we create in our imagination are not nearly as frightening as the monstrous acts perpetrated by ordinary human beings in the aim of one cause or another”. This is one of the many lessons Evie and others learn during their character development, which I felt was somewhat lacking in The Gemma Doyle series. However, Libba more than makes up for it in The Diviners, and I simply cannot wait until August to read “Lair of Dreams”! My rating of The Diviners is 9/10 – would have been 10/10 if I didn’t have to look up all the 1920s jargon and Libba didn’t hint at the possible love triangle!

Favourite character:

I honestly love them all!

Most relatable character:

Evie – I like the way Libba wrote her as a realistic seventeen-year-old woman who doesn’t have all the answers yet and is willing to learn and yet have fun!

Character who gets the most development:

Again, Evie

Favourite relationship:

Petition to nominate Evie, Will, Jericho and Sam as the honorary Scooby Gang – I want a TV series of them solving freaky crimes!

Favourite quote:

“There is no greater power on this earth than story. People think boundaries and borders build nations. Nonsense – words do. Beliefs, declarations, constitutions – words. Stories. Myths. Lies. Promises. History.”
“Naughty John, Naughty John, does his work with his apron on. Cuts your throat and takes your bones, sells ‘em off for a coupla stones.”

Dreamcast:

Evie O’Neill – Leven Rambin or Jennifer Lawrence
Memphis Campbell – John Boyega
Theta Knight – Kat Dennings
Will Fitzgerald – Anthony Head – he’s so much like Giles I can’t picture him as anyone else
Jericho – Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Sam Lloyd – no idea. Young David Boreanaz is the only one I can picture

Recommendations

You might like “The Diviners” if you liked:
Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray;
The Great Gatsby by F. S. Fitzgerald;
Among Others by Jo Walton;
“Supernatural” and “Pretty Little Liars”