Review Corner – The City of Mirrors

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin, published by Ballantine Books, anticipated publication date is May 24, 2016. I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

A few things to know about The City of Mirrors. 1) This is the third book in Cronin’s The Passage trilogy. 2) Even with a clever prologue that neatly captures major plot points from the previous novels, you really do need to read the previous books first. In retrospect, I wished I’d had time to reread the prior two novels before launching into The City of Mirrors. I brushed up on major plot points via the interwebz, but I’m sure there were some subtleties that were lost on me.

This book. Wow. I devoured (hahaha) it. Like most fans, I’ve been looking forward to the third installment for several years. The Passage trilogy is a sprawling (yet focused) post-apocalyptic epic detailing the near-destruction of humanity following the outbreak of a viral infection that turns most of humanity into vampiric creatures. There’s a cast of hundreds yet the novels – including The City of Mirrors – are surprisingly intimate.

Going into the third installment of any beloved series, the question is always, “Does it measure up?” For me, the answer was yes. The novel is epic and showcases some extraordinary writing. There were times – notably during a lengthy flashback – where I thought, “This shouldn’t work. I should be bored out of my mind and not caring at all about this particular character’s lengthy backstory.” But it totally worked, in part because that flashback forms the emotional core of the novel.

Sure, I had quibbles. Cronin maybe suffers a bit from the same affliction that keeps George R. R. Martin from killing off characters in his later novels. I’m not sure I connected with the younger generation of characters the way I did with Peter, Alicia and the rest. I could have used a few more details about what happens after….well, after that thing that happens near the end. And, much like end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I’m still on the fence about the epilogue.

Still, I’m comparing Cronin to Martin & Rowling. Sure, it’s to some of their flaws, but  it still makes Cronin kissing cousins with the others. (And isn’t that fun image?) In short, I loved the book.

4 stars



Review Corner – Whisper to Me

I received an arc of Whisper to Me by Printz award winner Nick Lake from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Whisper to Me is slated to be published by Bloomsbury on May 2.

Whoa, this book. Like, whoooaaaaahhh. Whisper to Me takes place in a depressed New Jersey beach town lifted straight from a Bruce Springsteen song. The glory days are over, fewer and fewer tourists visit the shore and to make matters worse, a serial killer is on the loose. Enter Cassie, who has been traumatized by her mother’s violent death and is trying to navigate a rocky relationship with her ex-SEAL dad, who himself suffers from PTSD.

Then Cassie finds a severed foot at the beach and starts hearing a malicious, often malevolent voice.

I can’t say enough good things about this book. It is expertly crafted and hard to put down. It’s creepy. And alarming. And beautiful. The entire book is narrated by Cassie in the form of a letter she’s writing to a boy whose heart she broke. Cassie might be an unreliable narrator on the surface, but she’s striving to tell the difficult truth about herself and her experiences.

Whisper to Me is also intense, especially in the first quarter of the book, when Cassie’s mental illness is first manifesting. I had to put the book down a few times after some particularly vivid nightmares. I always went back to it, though, and am glad I did. The author’s afterword, including resources he lists for dealing with mental illness, is an especially welcome addition.

Highly recommended, but be prepared for an intense experience. 4.5 stars.

Review Corner – Jane Steele

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye, was published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons on March 22, 2016. I received an ARC from NetGalley.

Having spilled my love for all things Austen in my Eligible review, it should come as no surprise that I also love the Brontes. Much like Jane Steele, the eponymous heroine of the novel, I re-read Jane Eyre on a regular basis. I mention this because Jane Steele is a reimagining of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Unlike Eligible, it is not a direct retelling of the original novel; Jane Steele exists in a universe where Jane Eyre also exists. Jane Steele frequently compares her own life to Jane Eyre’s (and the overall shape of the novels are similarly, although not identically structured), and chapters start with snippets from Jane Eyre. The difference? Jane Steele is a murderer.

The first part of the book is extraordinary. Jane Steele’s voice is gripping and the novel grows quite harrowing as Jane suffers cruelties at the hands of her relations and later the truly creepy headmaster of the boarding school she attends. Jane Steele takes a narrative dip away from Jane Eyre as Steele leaves school for the mean streets of London, while Eyre heads straight for Thornfield Hall.

Steele eventually heads to her own version of Thornfield Hall, although there’s a twist. The house where she’s to become a governess is the same house where she grew up. It’s also the house her mother may (or may not) have secured as Jane’s inheritance. The setup for the second part of the book is exciting – Jane lives under an assumed name and soon gets drawn into a series of mysteries at the house, all the while battling her own growing attraction for the rugged and dashing (read: hot but in an unconventional way) master of the house.

And….the book goes a little flat. The events in the second half of the book should be exciting. The mystery deepens, there are backstories involving everyone’s past days in India, there are falls from horses, spirited wards, nighttime intruders and just what are they building in that cellar? (DON’T GO INTO THE CELLAR!)

And yet it’s still flat. The mysteries and backstories never capture my attention, which is too bad, because I appreciate the diversity of characters at the house (most of the characters are Sikh). The cellar isn’t as mysterious as initially promised and even the nighttime intruders don’t seem so bad.  Jane talks about being anxious if everyone learns her secrets, but I never got the sense that the consequences would be catastrophic. What should have been a major source of tension fell, well, flat.

3 stars