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Many Kinds of Magic

                    When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find                   their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of          Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative.            There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be            different, and it will affect them in ways they could never predict. From the                mundane to the profound….
              There are many kinds of magic, after all. -Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus)

Hi! Thanks for joining me for my literary rants. Let me tell you a bit about myself.

First of all, I’m a nerd. A huge nerd. Like, a Dungeons and Dragons, Magic the Gathering,  quote-Firefly-and-proudly-call-myself-a-Browncoat nerd. I’m also a voracious reader, a homeschool mom, and an introvert. I’m more than a little awkward, and I express myself better in writing.

I’ll read pretty much anything, with the exception of romance novels. Sadly, I’m bereft of any sense of romanticism. I tend to gravitate towards fantasy, YA, and sci-fi, but I’ve been branching out more into nonfiction lately.

Because I homeschool two book loving little goobers, I’m also pretty up-to-date on children’s books, so I’ll discuss those here from time to time as well.  Honestly, I’d read picture books anyway, but having kids is a good way to browse the children’s section at the bookstore without getting too many weird looks.

I absolutely LOVE hearing bookish opinions and reading suggestions from other people. If you read a review and think it’s total bunk, tell me so. Tell me why. If you agree, props are good too. More than anything, I want to connect with other readers. Join me in discussion and let’s have some literary fun!

* On Twitter @WS_BOOKCLUB
*Browsery app: Witty and Sarcastic BookclubMany Kinds of Magic

Blood of the Fae by Tom Mohan

Image result for blood of the fae by tom mohan                                Liza McCarthy has never known the love she so desperately craves. The illegitimate child of a broken marriage, the identity of her father and her heritage are a well-kept secret. When she receives a call from a mysterious woman claiming her life is in danger, she manages to flee just before two men break into her home.

She soon finds herself in the tiny midwestern town of Halden’s Mill. There she is taken in by the Finns, a mysterious family who claim to guard the entrance to the fabled land of the faerie.

Liza is slowly drawn into a world of monsters, dark magic and a host of peculiar townsfolk. Now she must rethink everything she’s ever known and seek her destiny before two worlds collide with a force that could mean the end of the human race. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

I’m rather apathetic about this book, to be honest. The description immediately interested me: weird doings in a weird town? Talk of the fae? I’m down. However, the book didn’t really go anywhere.

I spent this first third of the book really confused. Things seemed very choppy to me. I couldn’t connect with Liza at all. For example: at the beginning she gets a call to an unplugged landline phone where a stranger predicts a break-in and leads her out of the house safely. It’s all very Matrix. But Liza spends much less time being completely weirded out than I could believe. Another thing that felt odd, is that there didn’t seem to be a sense of urgency at all. I couldn’t bring myself to care about any of the characters or what happened to them.

That’s not to say the book didn’t have its strengths. I liked the darker tones throughout the book, and it seemed that the storyline was always on the verge of going somewhere really cool. Unfortunately, it just didn’t seem to get there.

Ultimately, this book wasn’t for me.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go: Books with Incredible Settings

One of the many things I love about reading is a book’s ability to take the reader somewhere new, different, or completely imagined. I’ve been to so many amazing places, and I haven’t had to sit on a plane with strangers for hours on end. I win!

Here are a few books that have stood out to me, in terms of settings.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: When I think of creative settings, I picture the Night Circus. Those black and white tents, with magic inside waiting to be discovered. The gorgeous clock. The midnight dinners. One of the things I love about Erin Morgenstern is her ability to evoke not just sight and sound, but smell and taste. It’s magical. She casts the same spell with her second novel, The Starless Sea.

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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: I think one of the reasons this odd little book has stood the test of time is the unapologetic weirdness of both the characters and the setting. I recently read this book to my children. My toddler loved it. My oldest thought it was “too weird”. That’s okay, I love him anyway (Ha ha!).

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Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman: I really love the Inn of the Last Home, and the town of Solace in general. It’s such a cool idea, and it’s done so very well. It’s such a homey place. I’d love to visit the Inn of the Last Home and eat some of Otik’s spiced potatoes. Yum!

Mass Market Paperback Dragons of Autumn Twilight Book

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling: Of course this series made the list. Rowling’s Wizarding World is so well-conceived that it’s very easy to picture. Oddly enough, it’s the Burrow that really stands out to me in terms of setting, though.

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The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold: I’m still in the middle of this book, but Sunder City is so well described that I had to include it in this post. A fantasy-slum town, it’s easily seen in my mind’s eye.

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Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card: The enemy’s gate is down. Also, everything is so well-conceived and described that I never felt lost or disconnected from Ender’s world when reading this book, despite that being a slight issue I run into with sci-fi books.

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I’m a sucker for books with beautifully described settings. What about you? What books come to mind when you think of a good setting?

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau- ARC Review

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub

Image result for dreamland by nancy bilyeauThe year is 1911 when twenty-year-old heiress Peggy Batternberg is invited to spend the summer in America’s Playground.

The invitation to Coney Island is unwelcome. Despite hailing from one of America’s richest families, Peggy would much rather spend the summer working at the Moonrise Bookstore than keeping up appearances with New York City socialites and her snobbish, controlling family.

But soon it transpires that the hedonism of Coney Island affords Peggy the freedom she has been yearning for, and it’s not long before she finds herself in love with a troubled pier-side artist of humble means, whom the Batternberg patriarchs would surely disapprove of.

Disapprove they may, but hidden behind their pomposity lurks a web of deceit, betrayal and deadly secrets. And as bodies begin to mount up amidst the sweltering clamour of Coney Island, it seems the powerful Batternbergs can get away with anything…even murder. (taken from Amazon)

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Thornhill by Pam Smy

Image result for thornhill by pam smyParallel stories set in different times, one told in prose and one in pictures, converge as a girl unravels the mystery of the abandoned Thornhill Institute next door.

1982: Mary is a lonely orphan at the Thornhill Institute For Children at the very moment that it’s shutting its doors. When her few friends are all adopted or re-homed and she’s left to face a volatile bully alone, her revenge will have a lasting effect on the bully, on Mary, and on Thornhill itself.

2017: Ella has just moved to a new town where she knows no one. From her room on the top floor of her new home, she has a perfect view of the dilapidated, abandoned Thornhill Institute across the way, where she glimpses a girl in the window. Determined to befriend the girl and solidify the link between them, Ella resolves to unravel Thornhill’s shadowy past.

Told in alternating, interwoven plotlines—Mary’s through intimate diary entries and Ella’s in bold, striking art—Pam Smy’s Thornhill is a haunting exploration of human connection, filled with suspense. (taken from Amazon)

I am so proud of myself! I struggle with reading anything that could be even remotely considered a graphic novel. I think it’s because of my epilepsy; my brain just doesn’t process that setup well. However, I was able to read this book no problem. Yay!

This book was interesting in that two stories were being melded into each other. One was told through a diary; the other, in pictures. The story told through diary entries is that of Mary, a lonely orphan who lives in Thornhill Institute in the early 80’s, right as it is closing its doors. She doesn’t speak, and has no friends, but she is extremely talented in making dolls and puppets. Because of her quirks, she’s horribly bullied by the other residents in the institute, and by one girl in particular.

As her story continues, we see illustrated pages scattered throughout. The illustrations tell the story of Ella, who has moved in next door. Ella’s story takes place in 2017, and seeing the two tales meet was pretty cool. They begin to merge slowly, as Ella finds some damaged dolls that belonged to Mary years ago. From there, a mystery unfolds: what happened to Mary? And how will it relate to Ella?

The prose was striking in its simplicity, and the illustrations were evocative of isolation and the need for human connection. While at its heart this short story is eerie, it’s also very sad.

This book is very short and I was able to read it in about an hour. That doesn’t lessen its effect though; this one will stay with me. It’s very thought-provoking (plus-those dolls are creepy!)

I recommend this book to those who like their (light) horror stories with a bit of mystery thrown in.

Paris Adrift by E.J Swift

Image result for paris adrift    
Paris was supposed to save Hallie. Now… well, let’s just say Paris has other ideas.

She’s linked to a hole in time and chosen by fate to prevent a terrible war. Tumbling through Paris’ turbulent past and future, Hallie changes the world—and falls in love.

But with every trip, she loses a little of herself, and every change she makes ripples through time, until the future she’s trying to save suddenly looks nothing like what she hoped for… (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available on February 4th.

What first interested me in this book was its comparison to Midnight in Paris, a movie that I love. I can’t say I see much of a resemblance, aside from the obvious (they both involve Paris), but I’m grateful for that blurb because otherwise this book might have passed me by.

Hallie is our main character, a woman who feels out of place in her own skin. She’s decided to travel to Paris, more to run away from something than to run toward anything. There, she gets a job at a bar and joins an eclectic group of friends. She finds a sense of family, a boyfriend, and-oh yeah- a time anomaly in a taproom. Soon, Hallie is traveling through both the past and future, making changes. Whether she’s fixing things, or causing irreparable damage remains to be seen.

On the surface, my description probably makes this book sound like a lighthearted romp. It isn’t at all. It explores the idea of small changes having big impacts, discusses problems in our present, and touches on themes of self-acceptance and change. It does all that in a fast-moving, unique way. I loved it.

There were several things that set this book apart from other time-traveling books. There wasn’t nonstop action, the futuristic gadgetry wasn’t everywhere, and a good chunk of time spent was actually traveling to the past as opposed to the future. I tend to shy away from books involving time travel because it’s hard for me to handle the problems that tend to arise when writing about that subject. This book handles those stumbling blocks with aplomb.

I liked the bohemian feel of the group of friends, how they were all dissatisfied with how the world works and desperately wanted to affect change, but were unsure how to start. I think many people can relate to that (and no, I’m not going to start a religious or political argument, I promise). I actually think the conversations Hallie had with her friends were some of the most interesting parts of the book. You know a writer is talented when the musings and dialogue are just as interesting as any action scene, if not more so.

While there was a climax of events, what I most enjoyed was how things got there. The ending, while good, almost didn’t matter because the meat of the story was so well done. I definitely recommend reading this one.

Prosper’s Demon by K.J. Parker- ARC Review

Prosper's Demon by [Parker, K. J.]
   In a botched demonic extraction, they say the demon feels it ten times worse than the man. But they don’t die, and we do. Equilibrium.

The unnamed and morally questionable narrator is an exorcist with great follow-through and few doubts. His methods aren’t delicate but they’re undeniably effective: he’ll get the demon out—he just doesn’t particularly care what happens to the person.

Prosper of Schanz is a man of science, determined to raise the world’s first philosopher-king, reared according to the purest principles. Too bad he’s demonically possessed. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available on January 28th.

This novella is…odd. I mean, really, really odd. I was originally drawn to this book by the amazing cover (okay, okay, I know: don’t judge a book by its cover. But I did, so there).  The premise is intriguing: an exorcist who has an encounter with Prosper, a self-proclaimed genius and close friend of the king, who also happens to be possessed by a very tricky demon.

The exorcist, who narrates the story,  is morally bankrupt, and extremely unlikable. Of course, he warns the reader of that right away. I liked that he was an unreliable narrator with a cynical streak. It wasn’t enough to endear me to the character or the story, however. There were too many problems.

The first problem is the length. Being that it’s very short, it needed to get going sooner than it did. The first scene was interesting, but afterward things slowed way down. I kept getting distracted from what was happening because it was moving so slowly.

Another issue I had was the fact that we never learn the identity of the narrator. That’s something that either works for you, or it doesn’t. I tend to dislike never knowing a narrator’s identity. I’m totally fine waiting until the epilogue to learn who the storyteller is, but I like to know at some point. It’s never revealed.

In many ways, the story felt incomplete. The idea was cool, and the writing had serious potential but, probably due to the shortness of the novella, it wasn’t fully realized. I would have liked this better if it was longer.

Heart of Flames by Nicki Pau Preto- ARC Review

Image result for heart of flames nicki pau preto

You are a daughter of queens.

The world is balanced on the edge of a knife, and war is almost certain between the empire and the Phoenix Riders.

Like Nefyra before you, your life will be a trial by fire.

Veronyka finally got her wish to join the Riders, but while she’s supposed to be in training, all she really wants to do is fly out to defend the villages of Pyra from the advancing empire. Tristan has been promoted to Master Rider, but he has very different ideas about the best way to protect their people than his father, the commander. Sev has been sent to spy on the empire, but maintaining his cover may force him to fight on the wrong side of the war. And Veronyka’s sister, Val, is determined to regain the empire she lost—even if it means inciting the war herself.

Such is your inheritance. A name. A legacy. An empire in ruin.

As tensions reach a boiling point, the characters all find themselves drawn together into a fight that will shape the course of the empire—and determine the future of the Phoenix Riders. Each must decide how far they’re willing to go—and what they’re willing to lose in the process.

I pray you are able to pass through the flames. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available on February 11th, 2020.

Be aware: this is a sequel, so there will be spoilers for book one (Crown of Feathers). You can read my review for that book here.

*** Spoilers for Crown of Feathers Below ***

I was angry when I finished this book. I would have slammed it shut if I hadn’t been reading an ebook version. I’m going to try to explain why, but first let me remind you all that the things I dislike about a book might be the very things that you love. As Levar Burton says, “You don’t have to take my word for it.” So, deep breath: I’m about to dive in.

This book suffered horribly from Sequel Syndrome. You know, when the first book in a series is incredible, but the second book just falls flat. It’s possible for this series to regain its footing in the next installment, but this one was just bad.

First of all, all the characters acted in ways that made no sense for who they were. Commander Cassian, who showed determination, stoicism, and intelligence in Crown of Feathers, made the most ill-conceived and stupid move possible in this book. It made zero sense both from a characteristic standpoint, and a story standpoint. And he wasn’t the only one who acted contrary to how he was written in the first book.

Tristan and Veronyka entered into the dreaded angst-ridden relationship. I was so bummed about this! It could have added a really interesting facet to the interactions of the Phoenix Riders. Unfortunately, it just became annoying.

What bothered me more than even that, though, was Veronyka’s 180-degree turn. In Crown of Feathers, she was fierce, determined, and had a strong moral compass. She worked so hard to become a Phoenix Rider in the hope of joining a patrol. In this book, she was wishy-washy, threw all her hard work away for no reason, and dragged Tristan down with her. She basically snapped her fingers and he came running, leaving all his fellow Riders in the lurch.

Another odd choice that was made was how things were revealed. Often, Val’s internal dialogue would explain something to the reader, only to have it explained again at length to another character a chapter or two later. I understand that characters need to be given information in some way, but why explain it twice? Just reveal it to the reader as it’s revealed to the character. The amount of reiteration in this book was a bit much.

Okay, moving on to the things I did like.

Sparrow and Elliot were fantastic. Neither of them was in the book much, but they shone in every scene they were in. I love Sparrow in general. She’s such a wild-child, but wise beyond her years. In some ways, she reminds me of Luna Lovegood. I also liked Elliot’s desire to redeem himself after the events in book one.

I liked that the other Phoenix Riders were as annoyed by Tristan and Veronyka’s shenanigans as I was. I felt so bad for them in this book. They were completely messed over by Tristan’s lack of maturity.

I loved the phoenixes, of course. I’ve read a lot of fantasy lately that is bereft of fantastical beings, so I love seeing them making at least a bit of a return. I also liked that each of them had their own personalities.

Nicki Pau Preto knows how to turn a phrase. She’s a talented author, but I feel that she got in her own way with this book. I’m not giving up on the series. Rather, I’m hoping that the next book will return to the strengths that made me love Crown of Feathers.

The Tiger and the Wolf by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Image result for the tiger and the wolf"In the bleak northern crown of the world, war is coming . . .

Maniye’s father is the Wolf clan’s chieftain, but she’s an outcast. Her mother was queen of the Tiger and these tribes have been enemies for generations. Maniye also hides a deadly secret. All can shift into their clan’s animal form, but Maniye can take on tiger and wolf shapes. She refuses to disown half her soul so escapes, rescuing a prisoner of the Wolf clan in the process. The killer Broken Axe is set on their trail, to drag them back for retribution.

The Wolf chieftan plots to rule the north and controlling his daughter is crucial to his schemes. However, other tribes also prepare for strife. Strangers from the far south appear too, seeking allies in their own conflict. It’s a season for omens as priests foresee danger and a darkness falling across the land. Some say a great war is coming, overshadowing even Wolf ambitions. A time of testing and broken laws is near, but what spark will set the world ablaze? (taken from Amazon)

I received this book as winner in a contest, courtesy of the author and Dave at the Write Reads.

Bleak in some ways, yet utterly compelling, this book is a masterpiece. It’s unlike many other fantasies that I’ve read. Instead of a linear story, where I have an idea of where things are going, this felt more like a window into a world. The story was less important than the book as a whole, if that makes sense.

In this world, humans can shift into animal shapes. It feels very tribal, in that there are clans and each clan can shift into only one shape (that of the clan’s animal totem). Maniye is an exception. She’s the daughter of the Wolf clan’s chief, but her mother was of the Tiger clan. Maniye can shift into both forms. This is an ability she hides, only known to herself and her clan’s priest, who is most definitely not on her “side.”

Instead of discussing where the story goes, I’m only going to say that in many ways it’s a coming-of-age tale. Maniye struggles with her identity, her messed-up relationship with her father, and finding her place in the world. The fact that the world features shape-shifters, and many fights, is a benefit to the reader.

The strength in the writing, for me, comes down to the excellent world-building. While the characters and story are interesting, the world is engrossing. I loved reading about the different tribes and how their lifestyles varied from each other. I especially liked the Laughing Men. The idea was so original!

This book will not be for everyone. It’s not your usual fantasy. It’s stark and without fantastical frills (if that makes sense). It is, however, incredibly good.

I highly recommend this book to fantasy readers who like fully-realized worlds, and don’t mind slower builds.

One? by Jennifer L. Cahill

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                   It’s London in the mid-nineties before Facebook, iPhones and ubiquitous wifi.
Zara has just moved to London for her first real job and struggles to find her feet in a big city with no instruction manual. Penelope works night and day in an investment bank with little or no time for love. At twenty-eight she is positively ancient as far as her mother is concerned and the pressure is on for her to settle down as the big 3-0 is looming. Charlie spends night and day with his band who are constantly teetering on the verge of greatness. Richard has relocated to London from his castle in Scotland in search of the one, and Alyx is barely in one place long enough to hold down a relationship let alone think about the future. One? follows the highs and lows of a group of twenty-somethings living in leafy SW4. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

After reading the blurb about One?, I was expecting a bit of a FRIENDS vibe. Instead, it felt a bit more like the show Sex and the City. There is a difference, and it does come into play in my review, so please bear with me.

This book felt like gossip between friends, which is the feeling I got from the (maybe one) episode of Sex and the City that I’ve seen. It seemed sort of bubbly, for lack of a better term. It’s about four roommates as they navigate life. There’s Zara, the new girl; Penelope, who’s a bit of a partier; Gerry, who’s supposed to be hot stuff; and Charlie, a musician.

The theme of the book is relationships. It focuses on the relationships the roommates have with each other, as well as those they have with others. It’s not quite my bag, but I can absolutely see the appeal of this book to those whose taste lean toward the sweet and romantic.

My biggest pet peeve with this book happens to be the punctuation. Commas were often used in place of periods, which frustrated me. There was also a liberal smattering of exclamation points. I think an editor could easily help with that, but it was irritating.

My end verdict is that if light romantic contemporary fiction is a genre you gravitate to, you’ll enjoy this book.

                                                              About the Author

Jennifer was born in Dublin in Ireland and was educated at University College Dublin. She honed both her ability to write, and her love of writing, in UCD while studying Spanish, which was one half of her International Commerce degree. She went on to Business School in Dublin and moved to London after graduating, and life has never been quite the same for her since. When she is not writing she works with individuals and blue-chip clients to help them navigate and master change. She spent ten lovely years living in Clapham and now lives in Notting Hill in West London.

                                              About the author, in her own words:

I write contemporary fiction and try to capture the essence of a place and time in my books. Above all, my aim is to make you laugh, and hopefully learn a little, as you recognise yourself, your friends and your exes in my books. I love hearing from my readers, and you can contact me via my website, or @JLCAuthor on Twitter.

The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black

 

The Queen of Nothing (The Folk of the Air Book 3) by [Black, Holly]

He will be the destruction of the crown and the ruination of the throne

Power is much easier to acquire than it is to hold onto. Jude learned this lesson when she released her control over the wicked king, Cardan, in exchange for immeasurable power.

Now as the exiled mortal Queen of Faerie, Jude is powerless and left reeling from Cardan’s betrayal. She bides her time determined to reclaim everything he took from her. Opportunity arrives in the form of her deceptive twin sister, Taryn, whose mortal life is in peril.

Jude must risk venturing back into the treacherous Faerie Court, and confront her lingering feelings for Cardan, if she wishes to save her sister. But Elfhame is not as she left it. War is brewing. As Jude slips deep within enemy lines she becomes ensnared in the conflict’s bloody politics.

And, when a dormant yet powerful curse is unleashed, panic spreads throughout the land, forcing her to choose between her ambition and her humanity… (taken from Amazon)

**Spoilers for books The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King below**


        Here’s the thing: I’ve read several other books by Holly Black. My son and I read the middle-grade Magisterium series that she co-authored with Cassandra Clare. We both loved it. I’m bummed to say that this book just didn’t butter my biscuit. Not to say that Holly Black can’t write: she’s a very talented writer. I just didn’t care for what she did with this book.

That being said, she did make a few choices that showed her writing chops. I think the best way to write this particular review is to list the things I liked, followed by the things I didn’t. Spoiler-free for this book, but it does have spoilers for the first two books in the trilogy. Here we go:

Things I liked:

-I liked the wickedness and capriciousness of Faerie. Faeries in lore tend to range between mischievous and downright nasty, so this sat well with me.
– I enjoyed the riddles and prophecies that needed to be puzzled through. It was fun trying to figure them out before the characters did.
-The nasty critter that showed up was pretty stinking cool (that’s all I’m saying, so as not to spoil anything).

Things that didn’t work for me:

-The mush, gush, and angst. Zoinks! It became very tiresome very quickly.
– Locke is my favorite character ( I know, he’s a jerk. But he’s an interesting jerk), and I wanted to see more of him in the series, not less.
– In many places, the dialogue was so bad it was ridiculous. It tended to descend into absolute obnoxiousness any time Jude and Cardan spoke together. If they were separate, it wasn’t too bad. Again, this goes back to the mush and the gush. It just became too much for me.
– There was a lot of time spent on describing different outfits and hairstyles. I mean, a lot. And since my idea of dressing up means wearing a skirt with ye random nerdy t-shirt, I got bored long before the descriptions stopped.

I’m assuming it’s obvious at this point that this book was not one I loved. However, I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority on this one.

Have you read it? What did you think?