Review: Wayfarer

Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a sequel goes, this book is much better than a typical second book, but that’s probably because Bracken has avoided a trilogy. Nicholas and Etta begin separated and, while readers know from the end of PASSENGER that Etta is alive, we don’t know where or when she is. Neither does Etta for that matter. Lots of surprises in this installment including Etta meeting her dad, discovering that Julien is alive because he was stranded just like Etta, and the insertion of a mystical Faustian figure in the Belladonna. The travelers take us through early 20th century revolutionary Russia, San Fransisco after the Quake in 1906, Carthage during the Roman siege, and an alternate historical timeline in which Etta’s beloved New York is completely destroyed. Rose’s history is more fleshed out in this book, making her manipulation of Etta more understandable, but not necessarily more acceptable. This book blends Rose’s past, with the Thorns emerging as a force that really exists, with the journeys Nicholas and Etta are taking to try and get back to each other. At the center of it all is the astrolabe, which just about everyone has come to agree must be destroyed to prevent Ironwood, and an even more evil power-the Shadow, from getting their hands on it.

I’m a fan of a happy ending as much as the next girl, and this one delivers. The things that saves it from being a complete saccharine overload is that there is some delayed gratification in getting to the happy ending. I think one or two more deaths would have made it less tied-up-with-a-bow, but Alice stays dead and not everyone comes out of the struggle unscathed. The overall message is also one I can get behind: We can’t rely on others to keep our world free from evil-we have to make the world around us the kind of place we want to live.

View all my reviews


Review: Passenger

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a BIG book. Lots of pages, yes, but Bracken tackles a lot with time-travel world building including passages to different eras and locales. Her main character is a headstrong, violin playing, steel-willed heroine, Etta, who pairs up with a biracial, former slave now self-proclaimed “privateer” (read pirate), Nicholas, to steal a magical astrolabe from an evil megalomaniac who also happens to be Nicholas’s grandfather. The pacing in this one is breakneck once you make it through the slow intro. Following the travelers from place to place proves challenging to keep up with and Bracken chooses both familiar and exotic locales for her characters to traverse.

Etta makes a few jumps in conclusive logic after she’s spirited away by Sophia that seem unrealistic. Her mother, Rose, is emotionally distant, and the leaps Etta makes in connecting her new time-traveling situation to assumptions about her mother’s intentions for her as a traveler are unbelievable in their accuracy. If her mother was as closed off as we are supposed to believe, Etta would need a lot more help in navigating this new wrinkle in her life and discovering her mother’s intent for Etta’s role in this game Ironwood is playing. Supporting character, Sophia Ironwood is deliciously awful and is at once pitiable for the callous way in which her grandfather Ironwood dismisses her, and easy to hate given her venomous attacks on Nicholas which, seem at first racially based, but develop a more complex nuance as the story progresses. Nicholas is trapped by the social constructs of his time and is sometimes annoying with his Doomsday View of his future, particularly when he becomes entangled with Etta. I always want love to overcome.

Ultimately, Bracken weaves it all together and brings the strengths of each character into play. The cliffhanger ending had me cursing the time lag between publications. Clearly, I enjoyed this one since I read it twice. I read it last spring after it had been out for a bit, and revisited it this month to prepare for reading Wayfarer, the conclusion to the story. I applaud Bracken for limiting herself to two installments since three or more seems to be The Thing in publishing these days.

BRIDGE: This would be a great title for lovers of historical fiction. It would pair well with a study of American Revolutionary time period or WWII Britain, those two locales receiving the most description and time in the story. The series itself would be a good one for character study as Sophia and Nicholas both change so much throughout the arc of the series.

View all my reviews

Holmes on Jack the Ripper

PUBLISHER/PRODUCER: Simon & Schuster; Blackstone Audio, Inc.

NARRATOR: Simon Vance (sigh)

LENGTH: 336 pages; 9 hours, 22 minutes

SUMMARY: (via From the gritty streets of nineteenth century London, the loyal and courageous Dr. Watson offers a tale unearthed after generations of lore: the harrowing story of Sherlock Holmes’s attempt to hunt down Jack the Ripper.

As England’s greatest specialist in criminal detection, Sherlock Holmes is unwavering in his quest to capture the killer responsible for terrifying London’s East End. He hires an “unfortunate” known as Mary Ann Monk, the friend of a fellow streetwalker who was one of the Ripper’s earliest victims; and he relies heavily on the steadfast and devoted Dr. John H. Watson. When Holmes himself is wounded in Whitechapel during an attempt to catch the savage monster, the popular press launches an investigation of its own, questioning the great detective’s role in the very crimes he is so fervently struggling to prevent. Stripped of his credibility, Holmes is left with no choice but to break every rule in the desperate race to find the madman known as “the Knife” before it is too late.

A masterly re-creation of history’s most diabolical villain, Lyndsay Faye’s debut brings unparalleled authenticity to the atmosphere of Whitechapel and London in the fledgling days of tabloid journalism and recalls the ideals evinced by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most beloved and world-renowned characters. Jack the Ripper’s identity, still hotly debated around the world more than a century after his crimes were committed, remains a mystery ripe for speculation. Dust and Shadow explores the terrifying prospect of tracking a serial killer without the advantage of modern forensics, and the result is a lightning-paced novel brimming with historical detail that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

BRIDGE: This book is a great way to hook readers on Victorian mysteries and/or move them to more classic texts if they already enjoy the genre. Since the main characters in the story are Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, the most obvious bridge is to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s well-known stories about Mr. Holmes. In addition, many younger readers (as in college or high-school aged readers) may not be familiar with Poe’s Auguste Dupin, who many claim to be Holmes’s literary predecessor. And Poe wrote several other crime stories, the best of which is The Mystery of Marie Roget. Another well-known Victorian author who dabbled in mystery was Charles Dickens. In Bleak House he takes us along with Inspector Bucket during his investigative forays. In addition, love of a good mystery and/or the time period could lead readers to Agatha Christie or James McCreet. One other advantage of this text is the potential for historical research. Readers may become interested in Victorian England and/or the Ripper killings and decide to do a little investigating of their own.

READERS: This story is a great one for mystery fans or fans of period fiction. Readers who enjoy blended historical fiction will delight in the fantastical idea that Holmes really knew the identity of Jack the Ripper.

OTHER TITLES: Readers who enjoy Faye’s delightfully gory tale may also enjoy The Monstrumologist series by Rick Yancey, The Shades of London series by Maureen Johnson, or The Montmorency books by Eleanor Updale.

BORN WICKED by Jessica Spotswood

click cover to order


LENGTH: 352 pages

SUMMARY: (via Everybody knows Cate Cahill and her sisters are eccentric. Too pretty, too reclusive, and far too educated for their own good. But the truth is even worse: they’re witches. And if their secret is discovered by the priests of the Brotherhood, it would mean an asylum, a prison ship—or an early grave.

Before her mother died, Cate promised to protect her sisters. But with only six months left to choose between marriage and the Sisterhood, she might not be able to keep her word…especially after she finds her mother’s diary, uncovering a secret that could spell her family’s destruction. Desperate to find alternatives to their fate, Cate starts scouring banned books and questioning rebellious new friends, all while juggling tea parties, shocking marriage proposals, and a forbidden romance with the completely unsuitable Finn Belastra.

If what her mother wrote is true, the Cahill girls aren’t safe. Not from the Brotherhood, the Sisterhood—not even from each other.

BRIDGE: What a marvelous book with which to study gender roles. From the first few chapters I kept thinking of my former colleague Mrs. M who is a master-teacher in her beloved AP Language and Composition discipline. She is constantly looking for text that will ask students to analyze literature through a male or female lens. What an intriguing book with which to challenge readers to think about society’s expectations of both males and females. Cate is constantly questioning her own reasoning and struggling underneath the weight of a patriarchal society from the beginning of the novel throughout. In addition, both Finn and Peter are constrained by the roles expected of young men whether they feel that is the right path for them or not. The book would most likely work best in a literature circle type study paired with other titles (both classic  like The Awakening and contemporary line Leverage) that lend themselves to analysis of gender. One might also be able to parlay portions of the book into interesting albeit short connections with history classes. The oppressive setting and religious fanaticism would blend nicely with studies of Hawthorne or Wharton.

READERS: Fantasy fans will be drawn to this book because of the elements of mild witchcraft. Historical fiction fans or readers who enjoy period pieces will enjoy the Puritanical/Victorian-esque overtones.

OTHER TITLES: Readers who enjoy this title might also enjoy Chime by Franny Billingsley, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, or Seraphina by Rachel Hartman.

Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin

click cover to order

TITLE: Breaking Stalin’s Nose

AUTHOR: Eugene Yelchin

LENGTH: 160 pages

PUBLISHER: Henry Holt and Co. (Books for Young Readers)

SUMMARY:  (via Sasha Zaichik has known the laws of the Soviet Young Pioneers since the age of six:

A Young Pioneer is devoted to Comrade Stalin, the Communist Party, & Communism.
A Young Pioneer is a reliable comrade and always acts according to conscience.
A Young Pioneer has a right to criticize shortcomings.
But now that it is finally time to join the Young Pioneers, the day Sasha has awaited for so long, everything seems to go awry. He breaks a classmate’s glasses with a snowball. He accidentally damages a bust of Stalin in the school hallway.  And worst of all, his father, the best Communist he knows, was arrested just last night.
BRIDGE: There are so many things that could be done with this book. The most logical choice is to use this book in a history or government class to introduce students to Communism, Stalin, and the concept of Fascism or Totalitarianism. And along this vein, bridging this book to Orwell’s Animal Farm for younger readers or Anna Karenina for older readers would be easy. The book’s simplicity would make the concepts easy for younger readers to understand and older readers could dissect the fallacies of logic that Sasha makes when his father is arrested. Readers could also examine the book’s tone and discuss how the illustrations add to the mood. This would be a great text to use in conjunction with Wonder by R.J. Palacio. discuss bullying and how people in positions of authority or from a mis-applied sense of helpfulness will bully someone into a way of thinking for his/her own good.
READERS: This book will appeal to younger and struggling readers. The short chapters make it approachable and the illustrations are meaningful without being overwhelming. Fans of historical fiction will enjoy the references to Communist Russia and its unspoken policy of secrecy and subversion. Students who struggle with historical connections will enjoy the sincerity of Sasha’s story and the hope provided at the end.
OTHER TITLES: Readers who enjoy this book will also enjoy The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon, or Inside Out & Back Again by Thannha Lai.