Sacrifice by Brigid Kemmerer

Sacrifice by Brigid Kemmerer
Pub. Date: September 30, 2014
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Kensington Teen!)
Summary: Earth. Fire. Air. Water. One misstep and they lose it all. For the last time.

Michael Merrick understands pressure. He’s the only parent his three brothers have had for years. His power to control Earth could kill someone if he miscalculates. Now an Elemental Guide has it in for his family, and he’s all that stands in the way. His girlfriend, Hannah, understands pressure too. She’s got a child of her own, and a job as a firefighter that could put her life in danger at any moment.

But there are people who have had enough of Michael’s defiance, his family’s ‘bad luck’. Before he knows it, Michael’s enemies have turned into the Merricks’ enemies, and they’re armed for war. They’re not interested in surrender. But Michael isn’t the white flag type anyway. Everything is set for the final showdown.

Four elements, one family. Will they hold together, or be torn apart?
Genre: YA, Paranormal
Recommended For: Readers who are already fans of the series + aren’t easily disappointed by lack-luster endings

This is a review for the fifth and final book in the Elemental series. I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but I’m not making any promises. For my thoughts on the previous books/side-stories, head over here.

So, here we are. Two years and five books later, the Elemental series is coming to an end. To say these boys have been through a lot would be the understatement of the century: multiple deaths, coming out, finally letting go of the past – let’s not forget those pesky Guides, people trained to track Elementals and eliminate them. With Secret, war was finally on the horizon, setting the scene for Sacrifice.

Since the beginning I have flown my Michael Merrick flag proudly. I have been so in love with this boy, the eldest brother-turned-parent. Michael’s childhood quickly came to an end when his parents were killed and if he’s been a bit hard on his brothers it was only because he was doing his best to keep them in line so he wouldn’t lose custody. To lose his brothers would mean the end of Michael and he’s done – and will do – anything in his power to keep his family together. Sacrifice couldn’t be a better title for his story.

The novel opens with a bang – literally. Multiple houses in their cul-de-sac have been set on fire, including the Merricks’. However, because of their powers (Chris can summon rain, Nick can manipulate wind), the fire racing through their house isn’t anywhere near as bad as the destruction raining down on their neighbors’ homes. With their house in relatively decent shape, fingers start pointing.

When a second fire occurs and Michael is on the scene – again – suspicions are raised and suddenly his worst nightmare is coming true: his brothers are hastily shipped away. As if the universe enjoys messing with him, there’s also a stalker texting Michael, taunting him with photos of his house, his girlfriend. The Guides know where he is and they definitely aren’t willing to back down.

I guess I’m lucky in that a series I love was started and finished in two years. Most writers take that long (or even longer!) just to write a sequel. Brigid Kemmerer managed to churn out five novels plus a handful of novellas in just two years. So I know I shouldn’t complain. ..but I feel that Sacrifice is such a disappointment. I hate saying that, I hate thinking that. This was the novel I had been waiting for since the beginning, finally I have my favorite character’s story; I get a peek into his thoughts and see things through his eyes. Unfortunately, Sacrifice felt like it was only half-finished. Remember that little war I had mentioned, the one the previous four books had been building up to? It never happened. I expected the entire cast of characters to come back, everyone joining forces to finally defeat the Guides once and for all. Instead I get a page or two of a fight scene and that’s about it.

I’m not sure if Brigid was in a rush or if maybe she became bored and tired of this series, but as a reader, I expected far more. Key characters from the previous novels weren’t even mentioned in Sacrifice. Even Michael’s brothers were conveniently sent away! If the novel had been solely about Michael, a more character-driven novel like Spirit and Secret, I would have been thrilled. Instead, there’s also Hannah’s perspective. In the previous novels Hannah had been a great character. Like Michael, she had to grown up quickly: at seventeen she became pregnant. Now, at 22, she’s working hard to earn the respect of her fellow firefighters and still be there for her son. I couldn’t wait to see more of her. In Sacrifice she seems to be a completely new character. She’s selfish and childish and can’t help but stare at a fellow firefighter’s chest as he’s changing. I did not like where that storyline was heading and the entire time I wished Michael would end things with her once and for all. He deserved better.

Reviewing Sacrifice isn’t easy for me. I had such high expectations and Brigid Kemmerer totally let me down. Everything the previous novels had been working up to – the entire point of the series – wasn’t even mentioned in this book and half the characters didn’t even appear. The fate of one of the character’s came out on nowhere and didn’t get a reaction from anyone. Really, Brigid? I expected more from Sacrifice, I expected more from you. You’re so much better than this novel and I’m disappointed that this is how the series is going to end. I don’t mind sad endings if there’s closure, but here? Sacrifice practically ended in the middle of a scene. In fact, I thought it was the middle of a scene: when I went to the next page I was shocked to discover I had finished the book. My e-ARC of Sacrifice is 424 pages. The book ended on page 274. Those other 150 pages? Reprintings of the novellas. The novellas that were in the previous books. I don’t know what was going on with this book – I know Brigid has a new baby, maybe that played into it? – but Sacrifice was a total letdown.

The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O’Brien

The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O’Brien
Pub. Date: September 16, 2014
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press!!)
Summary: Rosie Sinclair has staked all her dreams of becoming a filmmaker on succeeding at the prestigious Forge School of the Arts. The secret to the school’s success: every waking moment of the students’ lives is televised as part of the insanely popular Forge Show, and the students’ schedule includes twelve hours of induced sleep meant to enhance creativity. But when Rosie skips her sleeping pill one night, she discovers that Forge itself is an experiment, with a hidden world behind the cameras, and dreams that are meant to inspire will also destroy.
Genre: YA, Mystery, Quasi-Dystopian
Recommended For: Readers of O’Brien’s Birthmarked trilogy, fans of boarding school tropes & little substance but a quick pace.

I read The Vault of Dreamers at the right place and the right time. This past week I was sick and despite its length (I wasn’t really into a 400+ page novel at the time) I grabbed it. This book was great for those moments when you want something to read, but don’t want to think. & the DayQuil probably helped.

Fifteen-year-old Rosie Sinclair comes from one of the poorest towns in the country. Her family lives in a converted boxcar and her only hope at making a better life for herself is to do well in school. Her little stepsister Dubbs is the only bright spot in her life and it’s a video Rosie made of her sister that earns her a chance to attend the most prestigious arts school in the country: Forge. Attending Forge means you’re also on Forge Show, a reality program that follows the students through every waking moment. Viewers tune into their favorite feeds and depending on the students’ ranks, companies can shell out some serious cash for advertisements.

In order to enhance their creativity, the students are given sleeping pills – they sleep for a full twelve hours per night. After Rosie notices odd scars on her arms, she skips a pill and discovers the school is a much different place at night. There’s something going on, something not right, and she’s determined to get to the bottom of it. The only problem? How can she tell anyone her plans when there are cameras on her at all times?

For such a long novel, there honestly wasn’t much going on in The Vault of Dreamers. Rosie attended class. Rosie met a cute boy. Each night she skips her sleeping pill and sneaks out to find out more. This repeats the entire book. I understand this was an early copy I was reading, but only the barest of bones had been laid out. I could see what O’Brien was going for, I saw where she wanted to go with this story, but the way she went about it left me unsatisfied. This is a novel that could have been fantastic, unfortunately, its execution just wasn’t there.

I also had a problem connecting with the characters. I didn’t like Rosie and couldn’t understand why she was doing the things she did. Linus? I wanted to like him, but in the end I realized I knew absolutely nothing about this boy – I don’t even know for sure who’s side he’s on! Their relationship was a joke, there was absolutely zero chemistry between these two. Early on in the novel another boy was introduced and I think he’s meant to be a second love interest (can’t have a YA series without a love triangle!) but that went nowhere. The rest of Rosie’s friends were little more than names and stock traits. For being on a reality show, you’d think these characters would be more compelling.

Keep in mind I read this while sick. The second half of the novel is a whirlwind of insanity. After the Big Reveal, all hell breaks loose and I was completely lost. I’m not sure if it was the book or the DayQuil, but I had no idea what was going on. Students were being mined and seeded, experiments on dead bodies, Rosie’s mom turns over her parental rights to the school’s dean. There’s so. much. going on, but no answers were given. Okay, maybe I can buy that O’Brien was setting it up for the next book, but you have to give the readers something. What was with the voice Rosie was hearing in her head? Who was that? What’s going on with Burnham? I need something to leave me happy with the end of this book, but also enough mystery to keep me curious enough for the sequel.

While The Vault of Dreamers wasn’t a great book, I was entertained while it lasted and it did the job it set out to do. Hopefully the finished copy has been tightened up – O’Brien had some interesting ideas, but they needed serious work. Also, I’m not sure why the novel was set in 2066. If Rosie hadn’t mentioned the date I would have assumed it was set in the present day. There was absolutely nothing that would even hint at a future date. So while I enjoyed my time with it, I’m worried I wouldn’t like it if I had read it clear-headed. If anything, The Vault of Dreamers will become a guilty pleasure novel

wait, what? the odd reasons behind book bannings.

image via one + two

September 21-27 is Banned Books Week, a week celebrating, promoting, and bringing awareness to books that have been banned and challenged over the years. It’s sad to think that in 2014 there are still stories (childhood favorites like Harry Potter, classics like To Kill a Mockingbird) that are forcibly removed from schools and libraries. It breaks my heart knowing that all it takes it one parent’s complaint for these words and ideas to be taken away without a second thought.

I’m incredibly lucky in that my parents never censored my reading (to an extent, obvs. I wasn’t reading Cujo at 5). Whether I wanted to read a novel or not was my choice and I’m so grateful for that. ♥ Thank you, Mom & Dad!

There have been some seriously insane reasons that led to books being challenged – and even banned – and I thought this would be a perfect way to highlight them. This week, read a banned book. Spread those ideas. For more information you can visit ALA’s site.

Y’all know I love me some Roald Dahl, but he was certainly no stranger to the Challenged/Banned list. The BFG contains cannibalism; The Witches is full of misogyny; James and the Giant Peach promotes disobedience and communism.
A Wrinkle in Time was declared unfit for readers because it contained magic and a female protagonist.
The Hunger Games has been deemed Satanic and anti-family.

A Farewell to Arms has been banned in Italy because of its “painfully accurate account of the Italian retreat from Caporetto, Italy.”
You know you’ve done something right when the Nazis are enraged by your work. The Sun Also Rises was burned in Nazi bonfires.

It’s probably best not to anger Papa.

Animal Farm contains the phrase “masses will revolt.”
Brave New World “makes promiscuous sex look like fun”
Of Men and Men is not only morbid and depressing, but “Steinbeck is known to have had an anti-business attitude.” Also, readers thought this novel was “very questionable to his patriotism.”

Have you come across any odd reasons why a certain book has been banned?

my week in pictures 9/21

The beginnings of Fall have finally hit Pittsburgh. While I love chunky sweaters and hot coffee (PUMPKIN EVERYTHING), I’m not looking forward to cold weather. Thankfully it’s only been chilly in the mornings, warming up by lunchtime. It’s supposed to get up near 80 today, with temperatures in the 80s this coming week. TAKE THAT, AUTUMN.

This weekend I got to spend time with a friend I haven’t seen in months. Just to warn you – if you ever see me in person, chances are we’ll watch a bad movie. That’s a Thing with my group of friends and our pick this time was Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan. Yes. Yes. Not only was it every bit as amazing as it sounds, but the biggest star (& I use the term VERY loosely) was Joe Estevez, aka Martin Sheen’s brother & Charlie’s Sheen’s uncle. His family must be proud.

We also stopped for lunch at one of our favorite restaurants, Loving Hut. It’s an all-Vegan place and although I was completely skeptical my first time, I’ve become obsessed. SO so good.

Just Desserts, Flambe, & Major League by John Layman
There’s an awesome comic shop in my town, so naturally my friend & I stopped in. A while ago I read the first two volumes of Chew and have been wanting to get back into the series. A police officer get psychic impressions from anything he it fruit, vegetable, or flesh. Okay, so it’s not a series for everyone, but I’m a big fan and we were about to head out the door when I spotted some volumes. I snatched up the next three and I can’t wait to dive in!
The Daring Ladies of Lowell by Kate Alcott
If this one looks familiar it’s because I grabbed it from the library earlier in the month. Since I suck at reading library books I wound up buying my own copy. I’m a total sucker for a difference in social status in romances. While this is definitely Historical Fiction (yay!), the main character is a factory worker while the love interest in a business tycoon’s son.

Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain
I had received an ARC of this one last year and, sadly, never got around to reading it. This October Diane has a new book coming out, The Silent Sister, and to coincide with the paperback release of Necessary Lies, I was invited to have a giveaway for BOTH books! You’ll definitely want to check back for that!
See You in Paradise by J. Robert Lennon
I love me some short stories and this collect looks fab!

A big thank you to Graywolf Press & St. Martin’s Press!!)

In Case You Missed It
September was a month of seriously lack-luster reads. What’s even more disappointing is that some of my most anticipated releases were total letdowns! John Darnielle’s debut, Wolf in White Van was a novel that sounded great but its execution left something to be desired. I wanted to love this one, but in the end, I had more questions than answers.
But then Allison Pataki came down from the heavens and reminded me that good – GREAT – books still exist. The Traitor’s Wife took a look at Benedict Arnold’s wife and I devoured it. The second I was finished I actually went and ordered my own copy! Now that is the sign of a good story.

The Traitor’s Wife by Allison Pataki

The Traitor’s Wife by Allison Pataki
Pub. Date: February 11, 2014
Source: Library (though I’ve ordered a copy ♥!)
Summary: Socialite Peggy Shippen is half Benedict Arnold’s age when she seduces the war hero during his stint as military commander of Philadelphia. Blinded by his young bride’s beauty and wit, Arnold does not realize that she harbors a secret: loyalty to the British. Nor does he know that she hides a past romance with the handsome British spy John Andre. Peggy watches as her husband, crippled from battle wounds and in debt from years of service to the colonies, grows ever more disillusioned with his hero, Washington, and the American cause. Together with her former love and her disaffected husband, Peggy hatches the plot to deliver West Point to the British and, in exchange, win fame and fortune for herself and Arnold.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Recommended for: Fans of biographical fiction, those curious about the Revolutionary War and the man who betrayed his country

Oh, this was lovely. Absolutely wonderful. I spent a little longer than I would have liked reading The Traitor’s Wife, but I wanted to savor it, to really get down deep into these characters’ lives. While I liked it when reading, the more I think about it since finishing, the more I love it – and I’ve already ordered a copy to keep on my shelves! That’s certainly saying something about this book; even when I love a story, I rarely – RARELY – purchase my own copy. The Traitor’s Wife is definitely a special story.

Peggy Shippen, the youngest daughter of the respected Shippen family, is the socialite. She’s beautiful, smart, and charming – and she knows it. While there are a few other debutantes in her Season, none are of Peggy’s caliber. Every night is spent at another dance and Peggy is never without a man happy to be seen with her on his arm. At seventeen she’s in no rush to settle down, though there are plenty of suitors who would love to have Peggy Shippen as his wife. Instead, she regularly breaks curfew, preferring to spend her time hidden in the shadows with John Andre, a Major in the British Army. She’s certainly attracted to him, but I wonder if Peggy’s rebellious nature didn’t also play a part in their relationship (Peggy’s father, Judge Shippen, refused to side with either the Colonists or the British).

While The Traitor’s Wife is absolutely, positively about Peggy, the story itself is told through the eyes of a young maid, Clara Bell. On her deathbed, Clara’s grandmother made arrangements for her granddaughter to have a position in the Shippen household. Once she arrives, Clara is told she’ll be the handmaid to the Shippen daughters…though, naturally, Peggy takes her all for herself. As a maid, Clara is virtually invisible, allowing her to hear every single secret whispered among the household.

When Andre leaves, Peggy is heartbroken, though she quickly finds solace in the much older Benedict Arnold. Over time, the two further their relationship, ultimately ending in marriage. Through it all Clara is right by Peggy’s side, from the first encounter with Arnold to the initial hints at something sinister to come.

I honestly cannot say enough about The Traitor’s Wife. I loved it while reading, I love it even more in retrospect. Everything about it was wonderful: the vivid details, the setting, the fantastic characters – both good and bad. Pataki’s characterization of Peggy was delightful. She’s definitely a character readers will love to hate. When we first meet her she’s a bratty, selfish teenager…and she really doesn’t change much at all. As an adult she’s still bratty and selfish, only thinking of herself and the gains she could make. When he first met her, Benedict Arnold had a limp from a war wound. Peggy led him on for months until announcing she would no longer have anything to do with him since he was old and couldn’t even dance. Arnold’s love for this girl was so great he all but overcame his disability, rehabilitating himself until he no longer needed a cane. Even still she refused to marry him until he could buy her one of the largest estates in America. He did, but it left him all but destitute.

While I’m not sure how much of the actual plot is based in fact, in The Traitor’s Wife, treason was entirely Peggy’s idea – and I completely believed it. She wanted wealth and a fancy title and would do anything she could to get them. I certainly don’t think Arnold was innocent, but he was definitely sympathetic here.

While I adored the characters (everyone, from the servants to George Washington himself, was absolutely perfect), there were two issues I had that could have been easily fixed and would have made this a five-star read (because it definitely was). I noticed a number of typos and errors. There was one sentence that stuck out in my mind where it read understand instead of understood. A quick edit would have eliminated these. The other issue was a factual error. There’s a scene where someone is hurt and the servants are told to check for a pulse. Not a single one has any idea what that means. Yes, they’re servants, but they can all read and write – they’re educated. I’m supposed to believe an entire household staff (who are no strangers to butchering the livestock for meals) wouldn’t know what a pulse was? Read up on medical history: doctors in the Middle Ages, China, Ancient Egypt were all familiar with pulses.

Apart from those two easily-corrected errors, The Traitor’s Wife was perfect. I loved every minute of it – even better, it gave me a fantastic starting point for further research on my own!

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
Pub. Date: September 16, 2014
Source: Finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Farrar, Straus and Giroux!!)
Summary: Isolated by a disfiguring injury since the age of seventeen, Sean Phillips crafts imaginary worlds for strangers to play in. From his small apartment in southern California, he orchestrates fantastic adventures where possibilities, both dark and bright, open in the boundaries between the real and the imagined. As the creator of “Trace Italian”—a text-based, role-playing game played through the mail—Sean guides players from around the world through his intricately imagined terrain, which they navigate and explore, turn by turn, seeking sanctuary in a ravaged, savage future America.

Lance and Carrie are high school students from Florida, and are explorers of the Trace. But when they take their play into the real world, disaster strikes, and Sean is called on to account for it. In the process, he is pulled back through time, tracing back toward the moment of his own self-inflicted departure from the world in which most people live.
Genre: Literary, Sci-Fi
Recommended for: Open-minded, die-hard fans of The Mountain Goats, RPG fanatics

I honestly don’t know where to begin with this one. As a fan of The Mountain Goats, of course I had to read Darnielle’s debut! Unfortunately, the magic he creates with his lyrics just didn’t come through in a full-length novel. I really am wondering if perhaps I’m missing something – much like Neverhome (one of the biggest disappointments of the year) – I seem to be on my own with my rating. Every other review I’ve come across, both from professional reviewers as well as average readers, has been nothing but glowing remarks.

Wolf in White Van has an incredibly interesting premise that could – and should – have been amazing. Sean, a man horribly scarred and disfigured after an unnamed accident, lives his life through a game he created. Trace Italian is a role playing game played through the mail where players navigate their way through an America that’s little more than a wasteland. While many players simply mail Sean their envelope along with their move (from a list of options), a few long-time players start to include messages and even letters. Over time, Sean learns more about these players, begins to see them as real people.

Two of those players are Lance and Carrie, high school students from Florida. When their game choices become reality fingers start pointing at Sean and it isn’t long before he finds himself in a courtroom, defending both himself and his game in front of an audience.

I don’t know whether I should be more disappointed in myself or in this book. Was I missing something? Was it all an allegory for something greater, something my piddly mind couldn’t grasp? Or is this a case of a not-so-great book getting love and praise because of the author’s fanbase? Both are entirely plausible and it’s a shame I couldn’t get into this one!

When it comes down to it, I suppose my disappointment lies with the vagueness of the storytelling. Sean is permanently injured and it’s never fully explained what happened. As a reader, that’s the kind of detail I need to know. He’s been living like this since he was seventeen, but he never talks about it. It’s never shown through a flashback or a memory. How could I possibly be sympathetic toward this character (who was, honestly, unlikable) if I don’t know what happened to make him the person he is now?

Upon finishing Wolf in White Van, I spent a good hour reading reviews – what were they seeing that I couldn’t? That was back in August. Now, weeks later, I’ve gone back and looked at those reviews again, the glowing praise, the life-changing commentary. Still I’m not getting it and that more than anything is what frustrates me. Even when I don’t like a book I can still see the other side, understand just what its fans find so appealing. That’s not the case here. Wolf in White Van is barely over 200 pages that still managed to take a few days to read. I hate to say it, but I think I’ll be sticking with Darnielle’s songs, rather than any upcoming novels. I will say though, that the cover is simply stunning. The title is a metallic foil and when the sun hits it just so…gorgeous.

my week in pictures 9/14

In case you have the crazy urge to get bit by a spider, let me be the first to tell you: don’t. I was virtually comatose all weekend and nearly had Matt post this for me yesterday! It got to the point where I had to set aside my current read (The Mathematician’s Shiva) because my brain truly couldn’t comprehend anything – although there’s math in it, so maybe it’s just me :)

ANYWAY. I’m still red and swollen and sore, but I’m up and about. Progress! So here we are, a weekly recap on a Monday. Better late than never, right?

The greatest day ever: my birthday! The party was fun, super low-key with just family. There was a tiny bit of mayhem when the candles began melting and the entire cake nearly caught on fire! ¡Qué desastre!

Because we began the week with my birthday, it was only fitting to end it on Roald Dahl’s. September 13 is Roald Dahl Day (for previous years + reviews, head here!). Though I didn’t get around to posting anything, although if we’re facebook buddies you might have seen a mention there, I managed to read The Great Switcheroo (short stories were ideal for me this weekend!) and I’m not at all surprised it was originally published in Playboy. If you weren’t aware Dahl also wrote stories for adults, after this one you definitely will be. Two men are lusting after the other’s wife and concoct a plan to switch places in the middle of the night in order to act out their fantasies with the other woman. Certainly not one for the kiddies!

Also, there was a previously unpublished chapter of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that was released!

Officers and Gentlemen by Evelyn Waugh
Y’all should know by now I love me some Waugh and continue in my quest to own everything he’s written.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
I’ve been eager to get my hands on a copy of this since I first heard of it and it was a total no-brainer for my Priority shelf.
The Diviners by Libba Bray
I absolutely loved this book (my review) but didn’t actually own a copy. FIXED!
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
Another book on my Priority shelf and one that comes highly recommended from Claire Legrand. This is a Thriller that involves some sci-fi elements (a serial killer is able to jump through time to choose the right moment to murder his victims). VERY intriguing!

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
Hannah is too good to me. She wasn’t planning on reading this one, so she offered to send it my way – thank you xo! 1920s London. A widow and her adult daughter are struggling and open their home to lodgers. Little do they know, the couple they take in will turn their lives upside-down.

The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O’Brien
I debated adding this one to my September’s Gotta Read It! post, and a few days later it arrived at my door! This one sounds like a total whirlwind: the most elite arts school in the country televises the students’ every moment. The students are given sleeping pills (up to 12 hours) in order to enhance creativity, but when one student skips her pill she realizes the school is hiding a sinister secret.
The Graham Cracker Plot by Shelley Tougas
Middle Grade! Believing her dad was wrongfully imprisoned, Daisy hatches a plan to break him out. This one sounds totally adorable and fun.

Thank you, Roaring Brooks Press!

In Case You Missed It
Neverhome was an absolute dud. Worse than a dud. This was one of my most anticipated novels of the year and it was SO disappointing I actually took it personally. 1/5