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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)

This is my first post in WordPress. I’ve written several (unasked for) opinions on my blogspot before deciding to find Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub a new home. For new readers: Hi. 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 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

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A Trip Down Memory Lane

This time of year, I tend to feel a little nostalgic. I think that’s true for most people. For me, my childhood memories are threaded through with books. I remember walking to the library with my mom and siblings, pulling a wagon to bring books home in. It’s one of my favorite childhood memories.

A few picture books stand out to me as favorites then, some that I’ve managed to hold on to or replace, so that my kids can enjoy them too. Here are a few of my absolute favorite children’s books:

St. George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. How can any kid not love these illustrations? They’re absolutely gorgeous. Combine that with the superb writing, and you feel like you’re traveling with George of Merry England to save the day (although, I did always kind of root for the dragon).

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The Kitchen Knight, also by Margaret Hodges with pictures by Trina Schart Hyman. What can I say? My love of fairy tales and fantasy started young and I’ve never outgrown it. I’ve been trying to get my hands on this book for years, but I haven’t managed it yet. It’s my very own quest, just slightly less fraught with peril. Ha ha!

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Jimmy’s Boa Bounces Back by Trina Hakes Noble illustrated by Steven Kellog. This isn’t the first Jimmy’s Boa book (that one is The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash), but I absolutely loved this book. It’s hilarious, how ridiculously everything escalates. It’s fun for both children and their parents, which is important because I can guarantee your little one will ask to have this one read over and over.

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Alphabears by Kathleen Hague illustrated by Michael Hague. This book helped me learn my alphabet. The little blurbs next to each letter are so sweet, and the entire book feels like a hug. There’s really no other way to describe it. This book remains one of my favorites, because I’m weird and I love children’s books.

Alphabears: An ABC Book: Hague, Kathleen
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff, illustrated by Felicia Bond. There are many “If you Give a…” books, but this is the only one I like. It’s so stinking cute! I have to admit that I relate to it more, now that I’m a permanently exhausted parent.

Pecos Bill, written and Illustrated by Steven Kellog. When I was young, I’d read this book while listening to Robin Williams read it on cassette. It’s not the same without hearing his silly antics bring an equally silly legend to life. I’ve looked for it on cd, but haven’t had any luck.

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Last, but certainly not least, is East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Mercer Mayer. Another fairy tale, I know, I know, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this fantastic book. The story is magical and the illustrations are beautiful. I always laugh a little thinking about how gorgeous this book is, because Mercer Mayer is more well known for his cute Little Critter books (which I also recommend, of course).  The great thing about this book is, the hero is a heroine.

Anyway, these are some of the books that are on my mind as I think back on all the literary adventures I was able to enjoy as a kid. What are some of your childhood favorites?

Tales From the Shadowhunter Academy

SPOILER ALERT! DO NOT READ UNTIL YOU’VE FINISHED THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS (which is a great series)!

I love the Shadowhunter world. These books are the closest I get to a guilty pleasure. I’ll be the first to admit that, while the entertainment level for Cassandra Clare’s books is through the roof, they’re probably not going to go down in history as the modern classics.  But, so what? These books are fun!

Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy is a collection of short stories centered around Simon. I adore Simon so I was tentatively excited. I say “tentatively” because I’m always a little nervous about short story collections, that the different writing styles will be jarring. This book was great, though.

In this book, Simon the Former Vampire decides to attend the newly reopened Shadowhunter Academy. It’s a fantastic setting and serves to develop Simon’s character, as well as adding more tantalizing tidbits to the history of the Shadowhunter World in general.

I really can’t pick a favorite short story because they were written so cohesively that they blend together as one perfect narrative. I did enjoy seeing Magnus and Alec, and learning about the origin of a certain adorable baby. There are no unimportant characters: even new additions get attention and development.

This is a strong addition to the Shadowhunter canon and worth reading. It’s meant to bridge the Mortal Instruments and the Dark Artifices, but if you’ve already finished Queen of Air and Darkness and are still wanting more of the Shadowhunter world, this is a good one.

If you’ve read this, what did you think? Who is your favorite character in Cassandra Clare’s world?

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Jackaby by William Ritter

I read the Jackaby tetralogy, by William Ritter. I went back and forth on whether to review just one book, or the entire series. I’ve decided to just talk about the first book, to avoid accidentally giving anything away.

Think of a cross between Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes, with a supernatural twist thrown in, and you’ve got R.F. Jackaby. Jackaby is a supernatural detective. He’s kooky, absent-minded, witty, and clever, sometimes simultaneously. How do you catch a murderer if you’re not sure if he or she is human? Told from the perspective of Abigail- this series’ Watson- this book is simply fun! 
Jackaby comes complete with a great cast of characters. They all add to the narrative. Jenny is the strongest, most well-written female character I’ve read in a long time. If William Ritter ever writes a side novel specifically about her, I’ll be standing in line to read it.

The mysteries aren’t mind-bending, but they are entertaining and well thought out. I love that there are clues scattered throughout the book. I can’t stand it when a mystery’s solution comes out of the blue, so I appreciate that you can go back through the book and follow the logic to get to the “whodunnit” correctly.

If you like entertaining, easy reads, give this series a go! You won’t be sorry. The pages fly by and there’s never a dull moment.

If you prefer your mysteries sans supernatural, read The Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters. It has a similar rip-roaringly adventurous appeal without the fairy tale critters. Amelia Peabody is incorrigible in the best possible way.

What should I read next? Comments? Suggestions?

My Book Suggestions: The Crocodile On the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters; The Screaming Staircase by Johnathan Stroud.


Combating the Post-Potter Slump

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Do you ever get into that post-book slump? The kind that only happens after you’ve gotten so invested in a book that you can’t possibly just move on to another book? That seems to happen a lot with the Harry Potter books. They’re fantastic, which leaves only a few options:

1. Immediately grab the first book and start reading the series again.
2. Mourn the end of an excellent series and vow to never read again,

OR

3. Find another book or series that sucks you in, thus continuing the painful and wonderful cycle that bookworms everywhere happily go through.

While there are many lists with great suggestions to end post-Potter book burnout, here are a few of mine:

*The Iron Trial (Magisterium #1) by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black. This is a fun series. While it’s obviously been at least influenced by JK Rowling, it’s a creative world and storyline in its own right. The main character, Callum Hunt, is admitted to the Magisterium, a school for magic. There’s the similarity, but that’s about where it ends, though. This is a fast-paced romp created by the minds that have written the Shadowhunter books, and The Cruel Prince, respectively. While a little darker (think HP #7, instead of #1), my ten year old had no problem reading them.

*The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians book #1) by Rick Riordan. A good chunk of this book takes place at Camp Half-Blood, where the children of the Greek gods learn to use their powers. While this is absolutely a great series to read after Harry Potter, my son much prefers the Red Pyramid, also by Rick Riordan. That involves Egyptian mythology which both of us find more interesting, and features that sort of friendship that JK Rowling wrote so well.

*Ragesong: Awakening by J.R. Simmons (Ragesong series #1).  Jake has been chosen to save a world he’s had no knowledge of. Joined by two changelings, and a girl named Sam, Jake must use his unique musical ability to harness the power of Ragesong and hopefully save the day. This book is a great adventure (plus-changelings!), and, while intended for around twelve years old or so, it’s well suited for as young as third or fourth grade, based on reading ability.

*The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. I love this book! It’s set in a magical world, and a grand adventure. While it obviously has many Christian parallels, which has led to wonderful conversations in our house, it’s well written and you can take as much or as little from it as you like.

Now, here are a couple suggestions that are a little more off-beat:

*School for Pyschics by K.C. Archer. This is an adult novel, not one intended for the younger of the Harry Potter fan base. I’d almost call it the Harry Potter starring millennials, but it hasn’t ripped off Harry Potter in any way. It’s completely unique. Teddy thinks she’s an excellent con-woman, able to read people and use it to bilk them, and that’s it. Until she makes a few bad choices, learns that she is in fact, psychic, and agrees to go to the School for Psychics as a way to avoid a more unpleasant fate. There, she gets caught up in a sinister plot. It’s great to see more twenty-somethings represented in literature, and it’s a new take of the “school for magic” idea.

*Last, but certainly not least: The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. I know this books seems to have zero business being in this post, but bear with me for a minute and I’ll give my reasoning. I’m not going to describe the plot because it’s pretty much a given that you know something about this book. The reason I’ve added this as a good follow-up to Harry Potter is the friendships between D’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. That, combined with the shenanigans they constantly manage to get themselves into, and the more nefarious schemes, makes this a book worth reading. That it’s amazingly well written, and has stood the test of time, makes Dumas’ book one that everyone should read. Give this a chance. You won’t be sorry.

What would you suggest to combat the post-Potter blues? Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Incidentally, I’m a Ravenclaw.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

There are multiple Londons: Red London, full of magic and opulance; Grey London, gritty and without any magic at all; and White London, a city being slowly drained of magic (and ruled by two ruthless monarchs). There’s also Black London, which is full of chaos and dark magic. No one goes there.

Kell is the Red Traveler, meaning he’s one of the few magicians with the power to travel between worlds. He acts as a messenger, but he’s also a smuggler. He ends up with something dangerous: a forbidden stone taken from Black London. It brings danger with it.

Traveling to Grey London and hopefully to safety, Kell meets Lila Bard. She’s a thief who just happens to save his life. The two end up running together, in an effort to stay one step ahead of those who want the stone’s black magic for themselves.

First of all, I’m kicking myself: why didn’t I read this book sooner? It’s amazing, a rush of excitement from beginning to end. Every character is well written and fully developed. Also, no character is untouchable, something I really appreciate. Too often in fantasy, there are no twists, which makes for a boring book.

Doubly great is the fact that Schwab didn’t feel the need to force an overtly saccharine romance, instead letting her characters, and the plot, develop naturally. Kell is fantastic, but Lila really stood out to me. She’s hardcore, doesn’t apologize for who she is or anything she’s done, and doesn’t spend time dwelling on things and feeling sorry for herself.

I’ll be rushing out to find the next book, A Gathering of Shadows, as soon as possible. I have a feeling I’ll be reading all of Schwab’s books in rapid succession. I’m so excited to have found a new author to love!

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Furyborn by Claire Legrand

Rielle has a secret: she can control not just one element, which is common in her world, but all of them. When she saves her best friend from a group of assassins, she exposes her hidden talents and the possibility that she may be one of two prophesied queens: One of Blood; One of Light. The Blood Queen is foretold to destroy the world, while the Sun Queen will save it. To prove that she is the Sun Queen, Rielle has to undergo seven elemental trials.

Fast forward a thousand years. Eliana is a ruthless bounty hunter with an unusual ability: she heals incredibly quickly. She believes herself untouchable, but then her mother is kidnapped. She joins forces with a man she was hunting, called the Wolf, as part of a deal: she helps him, and he’ll take her to her mother.

These two very separate plots end up twisting into one story, working forward from Rielle’s perspective and backward from Eliana’s. The chapters switch back and forth between the two characters, and that’s how the story moves along.

The thing is, I had less than zero interest in Rielle’s storyline. While it sounds like it’d be the better of the two, it ends up being really boring. The trials she went through weren’t described well enough for me to picture them in my mind and I found my attention wandering. Before each trial there’s an unneeded description of a “costume” that has been made for Rielle to wear; it feels very much like a Hunger Games throwback to me, and not in a good way. There’s also a poorly written romance that doesn’t jive for some reason.

Eliana’s storyline was much more interesting to me. She’s a very self sufficient character, which isn’t always a good thing, making her flawed and easier to relate to. Her younger brother, Remy, is my favorite character. He is basically her moral compass and I think that’s a really cool idea.

This book unfortunately did something that is a huge pet peeve of mine: two characters, who had been at each other’s throats the entire book, survived something horrific, and immediately decided it was a good time to “go back to his room” to relieve some sexual tension. Okay, yes, I get the relief. But they were both very injured, had a huge story-changing bombshell dropped on them, and hadn’t seen other people they’d been separated from to make sure they were okay. Instead of pausing for breath, trying to figure out what had just happened, or even checking on whether other characters had survived, these two decide to have a make-out session. Ugh!

I did like the concept of working both forward and backward in a story and somehow meeting in the middle, I just wish that both plots were interesting. All in all, it wasn’t a terrible book, but it wasn’t great. It’s a good way to pass time, but don’t expect this one to stick with you.

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

It’s that time of the year. Everyone is thinking about the perfect gifts to give. Of course, I’m a big fan of giving books as gifts. Here’s my (shortened) list of ideas for each age group:

Board Books:

*Mustache Baby by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Joy Ang
This book and its sequel, Mustache Baby Meets His Match, are absolutely adorable. My toddler loves them, so I can say with certainty that they’re perfect for that age group. Incidentally, the third book, Arr, Mustache Baby, will be available on May fifth, 2019.

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Picture Books:

Bedtime for Batman by Micahel Dahl, illustrated by Ethen Beavers

This book makes the bedtime routine super. Splicing each task with a Batman equivalent (As the boy takes his bath, Batman says “Your dirty deeds are over!”), suddenly going to bed is more fun. There are others that are similar, such as Good Morning, Superman, so it would make a good gift bundle.

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The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? by Mo Willems:

No list of good picture books would be complete without a Mo Willems addition. This is my favorite in the Pigeon series, but they’re all great. If your little one hasn’t seen a Pigeon book yet, that must be remedied.

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Older Kid Books: 

Randoms by David Liss:

My ten year old devoured this book, decided he now loves the sci-fi genre, and is now reading it again. We’ll be buying him the next books in this series for Christmas. I haven’t read this one personally, but I have read adult books by David Liss and he’s a very talented writer.

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From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

I read this as a kid, then I read it with my oldest. It’s well written and a lot of fun. Part adventure, part mystery, all charm. No, it’s not a recent release, but it’s still guaranteed to grab your child’s interest.

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Young Adult:

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake: The first three books in this series are now for sale, and the fourth can’t be released soon enough for me. This dark fantasy will suck you in and leave you wanting more. It’s the best YA I’ve read this year, and I’ve read a lot.

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Adult fiction: 
The 7 1/2 Death of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton: I won’t go into detail here (I talk about this book at length in another post), but this book is incredible. It’ll keep anyone fortunate enough to read it on the edge of their seat.

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Adult Nonfiction: 

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher: This books is full of sass and truth. Carrie Fisher had a way of combining hard situations with humor. Her take on bipolar disorder, which I have, is fantastic. While I’ve enjoyed several of Fisher’s books, at the moment Wishful Drinking is my favorite.

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I could keep going, but I’ll refrain. What books are you giving as gifts this year? What are you hoping to receive?