Monday, February 17, 2014

Review: Lockwood & Co--The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

          A sinister Problem has occurred in London: all nature of ghosts, haunts, spirits, and specters are appearing throughout the city, and they aren''t exactly friendly. Only young people have the psychic abilities required to see—and eradicate—these supernatural foes. Many different Psychic Detection Agencies have cropped up to handle the dangerous work, and they are in fierce competition for business. In The Screaming Staircase, the plucky and talented Lucy Carlyle teams up with Anthony Lockwood, the charismatic leader of Lockwood & Co, a small agency that runs independent of any adult supervision. After an assignment leads to both a grisly discovery and a disastrous end, Lucy, Anthony, and their sarcastic colleague, George, are forced to take part in the perilous investigation of Combe Carey Hall, one of the most haunted houses in England. Will Lockwood & Co. survive the Hall''s legendary Screaming Staircase and Red Room to see another day? Readers who enjoyed the action, suspense, and humor in Jonathan Stroud''s internationally best-selling Bartimaeus books will be delighted to find the same ingredients, combined with deliciously creepy scares, in his thrilling and chilling Lockwood & Co. series.

          Lucy Carlyle makes a plucky and determined heroine -- she has to be to continue to face down ghosts night after night. She is adventurous, yet moderately levelheaded and makes a nice support of a team consisting of Lockwood (who prefers to charge in guns -- ahem -- rapiers blazing) and George, who's perhaps a little bit too reserved. The chemistry in the team was very entertaining, consisting of the rough bumps and snappishness of a family but also the fierce  loyalty and general camaraderie. They worked together well, almost mesmerizingly so in a battle scene. And yet they weren't infallible, and there were times when their age bled through, serving to put things in perspective and up the ante.
Characters: 5 Stars

          The book starts out with quite a kick. The reader is thrown directly into the action with no info dump needed to get a hold of the dramatic and intricate, perhaps far more so than currently seen, world. Ghost hunting, though always carrying an intrinsic fear, was never so intense. The stakes upped. And then they upped again. And right when the plot was tying up, it didn't. So to those of you who've missed the feel of biting your nails, this one's for you. Though it could be considered a 'ghost' book, Jonathan Stroud has broken all the tropes of the genre to bring us a swashbuckling, plot-hole free narrative that just gets better and better.
Plot: 5 Stars

          The Bartimeaus Trilogy is one of my favorite series by far. The magic system and depth of the alternate history blew my mind. I can safely say that Lockwood and Co is well on its way to attaining the same. Again set in an alternate London, this time the people are coping with The Problem, a serious rash of hauntings. Reality melds smoothly with paranormal activity, in the newest book from Jonathan Stroud, and also the newest book on my favorites list.
Style: 5 Stars

Rating: 5 Stars
Source: Library
Genre: Paranormal Adventure
YA Fiction

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Book Review: Porcelain Keys

Porcelain Keys is an upcoming YA contemporary romance from author Sarah Beard.

          Aria's life is full of secrets--secrets about her mother s death, her father s abuse, and her dream to go to Juilliard. When Aria meets Thomas, he draws out her secrets, captures her heart, and gives her the courage to defy her father. But when tragedy strikes and Thomas disappears, Aria is left alone to transform her broken heart s melody into something beautiful. Porcelain Keys is a captivating love story that will resonate long after the last page is turned.

          I must say, though they aren't present in the synopsis, Vivian (Aria's neighbor, and rather eccentric, but determined friend) and Nathaniel (Aria's piano teacher) were my favorite characters. Vivian was a fun, hardy, and confident woman. Nathaniel had struggles and triumphs, but realized that he was responsible for shaping his life. And though not present for most of the novel, they added glimpses of a rounded world in which the novel took place. However, I'm afraid Aria (main character) didn't really do it for me.She was very dedicated to her music, and I could clearly see the love she had for it, but she had a lot of emotional insecurities -- stemming from her father's abuse, loosing her mother, and other tragedies that wouldn't let her move forward. I felt like she was stuck and didn't really progress in the book. There were times when she released her problems through her music and almost moved on, but she was back where she started after the music ended. It felt like she didn't know who she was without Thomas (Romantic interest #1) reassuring her of her value. I was disappointed she never grew into the strong young woman her friends wanted her to be. That being said, I did appreciate Thomas as being a kind, caring, hard-working, respectful love interest who gave a foundation to the romance other than hormones.
Characters: 2.8 Stars

          It was quite relaxing to read a romance, after the thrillers and adventure stories I've had lately. The plot was easy-going and had some very cute moments between Thomas and Aria as their romance blossomed. Though some of the plot twists felt contrived, the majority didn't and served to keep things flowing. I really enjoyed Aria's musical journey through practicing, lessons, and eventually Julliard. It added an interesting and intricate side to the book that came across as beautiful and artistic. I also enjoyed Aria's travels and the way Thomas looked out for her.
Plot: 3 Stars

          I loved the theme of music in the story that Sarah Beard skillfully wove in. It gave Aria a connection with her mother, strong enough that, even though her mother passed away before the first chapter, Aria's background gained authenticity. It was a sweet and subtle touch that paired perfectly with a refreshingly clean romance.
Style: 3.5 Stars

Rating: 3.1 Stars
Source: ARC From Author
Genre: Romance
YA Fiction

Subnote: And the cover? Holy Gorgeous!