It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2020 Adult Fiction Edition

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub

I have been looking forward to writing this post! This has been a particularly excellent year for adult fiction and there are so many amazing books that would make for great gifts. So, without further ado, here goes!

The Last Smile in Sunder City and Dead Man in a Ditch by Luke Arnold

Holy wow, these books are fantastic! Take a gritty noir and smash it up into a brilliant fantasy world and you’ll get the general feel of these books. Luke Arnold’s author voice is incredibly entertaining and these are books I know I’ll read more than once. These would be great gifts for readers who are already big fantasy fans and want a new twist on the genre. You can find my original reviews for these books here: The Last Smile in Sunder City and Dead Man in a Ditch.

The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart


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My Top 15 Favorite Author Debuts

I recently read a truly fantastic post on FanFiAddict about authors who absolutely killed it with their debut novels. I had so much fun reading the post that I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon and do my own. There are so many amazing authors whose debut books have completely blown me away. As with FanFiAddict’s post, I’ve decided not to add my own thoughts, but instead leave a quote from each spectacular novel. In no particular order, here are my top 15:

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow (Review)

“Sometimes I feel there are doors lurking in the creases of every sentence, with periods for knobs and verbs for hinges.”

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

“Any decent person who knows what warfare is can never go into battle with a whole heart.”

Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames (Review)

“A tiger, however fearsome, could be hunted into a corner. It fought alone, so it died alone. But to hunt a wolf was to constantly look over your shoulder, wondering if others were behind you in the dark.”

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

“Someone needs to tell those tales. 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 can never predict. From the mundane to the profound.”

The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (Review)

“If this isn’t hell, the devil is surely taking notes.”

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

“I am the Reaper and death is my shadow.”

Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

“Do you know what it means to be loved by Death?… Do you know what it means to have Death know your name?”

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

“It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

“So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.”

Feathertide by Beth Cartwright (Review)

“Secretly, the heart navigated you to where it needed you to be.”

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold (Review)

“I like books. They’re quiet, dignified, and absolute. A man might falter but his words, once written, will hold.”

Redwall by Brian Jacques

Even the strongest and bravest must sometimes weep. It shows they have a great heart, one that can feel compassion for others.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

“I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”

The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks

“There was a madness in the scheme of life that men were forced to accept either with resigned fury or blunt indifference.”

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

“Time and I have quarreled. All hours are midnight now. I had a clock and a watch, but I destroyed them both. I could not bear the way they mocked me.”

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever―and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name. (taken from Amazon)

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is a conglomeration of several ideas: there’s the Faustian concept of selling one’s soul to the Devil, of course. There’s also history told ostensibly as a supernatural tale, very reminiscent of Anne Rice. There’s even the relationship outside of time, which reminded me a little of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (an excellent movie, by the way). The problem is, because there were so many elements from other stories, I was unable to just fully sink into this one.

The elements of Faust were expected. The main character, Addie LaRue, trades her soul to the devil for freedom from obligations (see: forced marriage) and all the time she desires. She will only die and lose her soul when she folds and tell the Devil she’s done with life. The catch – there’s always a catch when the Devil’s involved – is that she won’t be remembered by anyone. Ever. She’ll slip out of sight and immediately out of mind the second a door closes, or a person turns away. She is essentially a ghost. After 300 years, Addie has grown used to it. Until one day she meets a bookseller and he remembers her.

Up until the meeting, Addie’s life is told in terms of her testing her boundaries. She dances in and out of history, seeing but unable to leave a mark. This removed view of different historical times felt a little Anne Rice to me. I happen to love how Anne Rice is able to use her dead characters to bring different times to life (bad pun intended). Unfortunately, as good a writer as Schwab is, her strength is not in this sort of writing. It felt forced and, honestly, did not interest me all that much. There were several descriptions of one-night stands (either physically or emotionally) and they became rather redundant after a while.

More interesting was Addie’s inner dialogue. She was very concerned with leaving her mark and wondering whether a person really exists if no one ever remembers them. The solitary inner dialogue of the book was periodically broken up by visits from the Devil, in which he tried to coerce or scare her into giving up. She comes close, but the man who remembers her changes everything. Enter Henry.

Henry is a bookseller who, instead of forgetting Addie as everyone does, remembers her. I won’t explain the why and spoil it, but it was interesting, though expected. I found his character to be much more interesting and three dimensional. His fear of not experiencing everything which leads to an anxious energy, combined with the feeling of not ever being enough, was something I think everyone relates to in the smaller sense.

Addie and Henry start a relationship, but I feel like she is only attracted to Henry because he remembers her. It has nothing to do with who he is, which bothered me. She is more interested in what he can do for her than in what they can do together. I did like their sense of urgency, neither of them knowing how much time they’ll get together before things come undone. Here is where it felt a little reminiscent of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: the reader sees what a relationship looks like in snapshots, knowing that it doesn’t last.

The ending was good, if expected. Really, there was no other way for it to end. It got a little schmaltzy, but not to the point that I couldn’t stand it. To be honest, I liked the book, but I didn’t love it. I feel like Schwab does better with ideas that offer a little more freedom to exercise her creativity. Instead of doing a unique twist on the “deal with the devil” idea, her talents might have been better displayed in a different setting. Don’t get me wrong: in no way was the book bad, it just didn’t grab me the way I hoped it would. This would be a good one to read after finishing a doorstop of a novel, or as a breather after reading an emotionally exacting book.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Classically Cool- Let’s Talk Classics!

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub

I think classics tend to get a bum rap. Possibly because of the way they’re taught in schools (being told to examine the minutiae of any book is enough to kill enthusiasm, in my opinion); possibly because some people just resent being told what to read by a teacher. Either way, I disliked most classics when I read them for school. Reading them on my own, however- that’s a different story.

I’m going to bore you by telling you about some of my favorites. You’ll notice that I don’t have any books involving brooding or swooning. I’m also sorry to report that, after reading it three times, I still don’t like Dracula. So, which classics stand out to me? Well, here goes:

The Three Musketeers and Twenty Years After by Alexander Dumas. Well, buckle my swash! I’m pretty sure everyone knows at least the general gist of The Three Musketeers…

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The Lost Book of the White (The Eldest Curses Book 2) by Cassandra Clare and Wesley Chu

Life is good for Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood. They’re living together in a fabulous loft, their warlock son, Max, has started learning to walk, and the streets of New York are peaceful and quiet—as peaceful and quiet as they ever are, anyway.

Until the night that two old acquaintances break into Magnus’s apartment and steal the powerful Book of the White. Now Magnus and Alec will have to drop everything to get it back. They need to follow the thieves to Shanghai, they need to call some backup to accompany them, and they need a babysitter.

Also, someone has stabbed Magnus with a strange magical weapon and the wound is glowing, so they have that to worry about too.

Fortunately, their backup consists of Clary, Jace, Isabelle, and newly minted Shadowhunter Simon. In Shanghai, they learn that a much darker threat awaits them. Magnus’s magic is growing unstable, and if they can’t stop the demons flooding into the city, they might have to follow them all the way back to the source—the realm of the dead. Can they stop the threat to the world? Will they make it back home before their kid completely wears out Alec’s mom? (taken from Amazon)

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned many times, the Shadowhunter world (I’m a big fan of demons in literature) and Magnus Bane are the reasons I enjoy Cassandra Clare’s books. So, of course a series focusing on Magnus would immediately interest me. What’s not to love about the High Warlock of Brooklyn?

This book follows a quest of sorts: Magnus and Company need to find and retrieve a spellbook that would be very bad news if it’s in the wrong hands. The hands that have stolen it are most definitely the wrong ones and a sense of urgency is added to the mission in the form of nasty, glowing wounds that Magnus suddenly has.

Cassandra Clare has teamed up with author Wesley Chu for this series. He wrote The Lives of Tao, an interesting and unique book. I’ve enjoyed seeing how the series evolves with his contribution. So far, I’m liking the changes. First of all, there’s a distinct lack of love triangles. A while ago I wrote a blog post about tropes. There’s the tried and true, the cool and the ew! For me, love triangles are firmly on the “ew” list, so I’m loving the lack of them.

The book’s main character is Magnus, immediately elevating it in my mind. He’s such a fun character and there’s so much that can be done with him. Since he’s been around forever, he can easily be inserted into different points in history which adds a creative perspective on modern doings. Also, his experience sometimes gives him a long-suffering attitude when dealing with the angst that some of the other characters involve themselves in. That always makes me laugh. Honestly though, what I loved most about him in The Lost Book of the White was his fear and his joy about being a parent. It felt so natural and made his character feel more three-dimensional. It was a fantastic direction for his character to go in, and brand new territory for the authors to explore. It’s been touched on a bit in other books, but it plays a bigger role both in the storyline here, and how Magnus reacts to things.

The problems themselves were a blast to read. Magnus and Company (I’m totally going to trademark this phrase) had to work together and actually communicate to fix the mess that they were in. Alec is worried sick about Magnus (even in the Shadowhunter world, glowing wounds aren’t normal), Simon is feeling very unsure about his career path, and Isabelle has an unfortunate run-in with a hell dimension. A ton is packed into the book and there’s never a dull moment.

The action is well-written and there’s a lot of it. I was definitely on board for that. A good demon fight is always fun to read. Basically, what I’m saying at length is the The Lost Book of the White had much more of what I enjoy in the Shadowhunter books, and much less of what I’m not a huge fan of. I’m jazzed about what’s happening in the series so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes from here. Bring on the Magnus!

Feathertide by Beth Cartwright

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub

Image result for feathertideMarea was born to be different – a girl born covered in the feathers of a bird, and kept hidden in a crumbling house full of secrets. When her new tutor, the Professor, arrives with his books, maps and magical stories, he reveals a world waiting outside the window and her curiosity is woken. Caught in the desire to discover her identity and find out why she has feathers fluttering down her back like golden thistledown, she leaves everything she has ever known and goes in search of the father she has never met.

This hunt leads her to the City of Murmurs, a place of mermaids and mystery, where jars of swirling mist are carried through the streets by the broken-hearted. It is here that she learns about love, identity and how to accept being that little bit different. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Ebery Publishing for providing…

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Quotables: Words that Stuck with Me this Year

One of the (many) amazing things about books is their ability to reach us. I might read a sentence, absorb the information provided, and move on. Someone else might read that same sentence and be profoundly moved. That sentence becomes something more than just words on a page: it touches a part of that person and sticks with them. While I haven’t read as many books this year as I did last year (I blame 2020), this has been a year full of amazing writing, the sort that I treasure. Here are a few quotes that I have absolutely loved.

“Things won’t seem as bleak in the morning. Morning is wiser than evening.”– Emily Duncan, Ruthless Gods

“Some songs weren’t mere songs. They were memories curled tight and set alight. They made you heartsick.”– Stuart Turton, The Devil and the Dark Water

“Good people don’t bow their heads and bite their tongues while other good people suffer. Good people are not complicit.”-Alexis Henderson, The Year of the Witching

“‘No’, I cleared my throat. “It’s the sort of good that you get sad about because you no longer have it. A very good.”– Andrea Stewart, The Bone Shard Daughter

“Money can’t buy love, but it improves your bargaining position.”– Christopher Marlowe, Dr. Faustus

“Sometimes it feels like I’m in a staring contest with failure, and if I blink, I’ll die.”-Sarah Gailey, Magic for Liars

“Perhaps even people you like and admire immensely can make you see the World in ways you would rather not.”-Susanna Clarke, Piranesi

“Maybe trust is neither lost nor found, broken nor mended, but merely given.”-Alix E. Harrow, The Once and Future Witches

“I like books. They’re quiet, dignified, and absolute. A man might falter but his words, once written, will hold.”-Luke Arnold, The Last Smile in Sunder City

What are some quotes from the books you’ve read this year that blew you away? If you’d like to find out more about any of these books, you can find my reviews below. Happy reading!

Ruthless Gods by Emily A. Duncan

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Hendersen

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

Across the Fourwinds by Shane Trusz and Daryl Frayne

An ancient Gateway between worlds is vulnerable, endangering life on earth. Two teens begin an epic journey to find out why.

Since his mother’s tragic accident, Will Owens has been a loner. And for good reason: he claims to see dark creatures emerging from the forest near his home. Ostracism is a way of life until he meets Morgan Finley, a fencing champion with everything going for her—except a dark family secret.

In pursuit of answers, these unlikely friends enter the forest and discover a magical kingdom where a dragon has unleashed a powerful disease. When a young sage reveals their true identities, Will and Morgan join a small but courageous resistance on a quest to save the Fourwinds. (taken from Amazon)

A rather simple, but still enjoyable fantasy, Across the Fourwinds had things that I both liked and disliked. It’s a portal fantasy, which isn’t my favorite fantasy subgenre simply because it’s so difficult to get a proper real world/ fantasy world ratio. In this case the jump to the fantasy felt a teeny bit rushed. I would have liked the introduction of the characters to have a little more attention before throwing them into a new world. That being said, the world is pretty cool.

What I liked so much about Fourwinds is the amount of fantastical creatures. I love seeing how different authors tackle the use of familiar magical critters such as dragons and gnomes. While nothing was earth-shatteringly unique, the authors nonetheless made these creatures their own. The world has a lot to it, and hints at things not explored in the book. That always makes the setting seem larger and more interesting to me.

Now for the characters. I have a bone to pick here. The male characters are well-developed and continue to grow throughout the story. The female characters-not so much. I felt like Morgan existed as a mere background note, although there were pretty common reminders of how attractive she is. What a bummer! So much more should have been done with her character! There is lots of potential for character growth in the next book, so here’s hoping we see more from her.

The plotline was interesting, the world was vast, and there was action aplenty. Despite some hiccups, Across the Fourwinds was fun fantasy.

Women in Fantasy: the good, the bad, and the hardcore

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub

When people think of fantasy, they sometimes think of the “damsel in distress.” Luckily, there are many other women in fantasy: smart, capable, and epic. Here are some fabulous females in fantasy (how’s that for alliteration?):

The Good:
Echo from Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer-

This book is loosely based on the fairy tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon. Echo is an interesting character. She’s very brave, not only sacrificing her freedom for a wolf, but undertaking a harrowing journey to fix a (rather horrendous) mistake. She’s definitely flawed, but that makes her character utterly believable.

Echo Alkaev’s safe and carefully structured world falls apart when her father leaves for the city and mysteriously disappears. Believing he is lost forever, Echo is shocked to find him half-frozen in the winter forest six months later, guarded by a strange talking wolf―the same creature who attacked her as…

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The Crosser’s Maze (the Heroes of Spira book 2) by Dorian Hart

The Crosser’s Maze is a legendary device, a mysterious artifact of mind, magic, and metal. The archmage Abernathy believes that it can permanently prevent the malevolent Naradawk Skewn from escaping his otherworldly prison and bringing the world to ruin. But the archmagi are spending all of their wizardly might keeping Naradawk locked away. The burden of finding the Crosser’s Maze rests with Horn’s Company.

Dranko, Morningstar, and the rest of their ragtag band need only acquire the maze and bring it back to Abernathy. Nothing could be easier—except that no one knows exactly what the maze looks like. Or how big it is. Or precisely *where* it is. Or how to use it.

Worse, the Crosser’s Maze waits somewhere in the distant land of Kivia, on the far side of the Uncrossable Sea. The only means of getting there is a magical archway through which a hostile army is, even now, invading from the other side.

And, as if all of *that* weren’t dire enough, the evil Sharshun have sent an agent of their own to Kivia. She seeks the Crosser’s Maze for herself—and she has a month head start. If she finds it first, the world of Spira is doomed.(taken from Amazon)

I enjoyed book one, The Venifact Colossus, so much that I was a little nervous about reading the second book in the series. I am happy to report that I didn’t need to be. The Crosser’s Maze only increased my love of this series. Perfectly balancing action with character growth, author Dorian Hart has created a fantasy series that is utterly engrossing. There will be slight spoilers for book one below, but I’ll try to keep them to a minimum. You can find my review for book one here: The Ventifact Colossus.

Book two continues with the reappearance of Grey Wolf, who had been separated from the company. Together with a new addition (who is purrfect), they set off in an attempt to acquire the Crosser’s Maze. I’m not going to say any more about that for fear of spoiling things. Half of the enormous fun of book two is the sheer number of twists and unexpected revelations. I couldn’t have predicted the ending if I tried.

One thing I like about questing fantasy is the opportunity it presents regarding world building. It really is only constrained by the author’s creativity. The uniqueness of this world is fantastic. While there are many twists on the usual fantasy creatures, one of the things that set this world apart is the exploration of differing belief systems throughout the world. I loved watching the believers in the different religions interact with each other and seeing how those interactions changed or further strengthened their original beliefs. So often in fantasy worlds, the mythology and religions are there but unexplored. Not so in this case. I found myself eagerly looking forward to every new piece of information regarding the deities in each area.

Now, on to the characters. In the first book, I couldn’t pick just one favorite. I ended up with a top three. The same happened here. I loved each character. Ernie is still a favorite of mine. Watching him grow in self-confidence (he really is his own worst enemy) was a joy. I loved the moments when he would stop questioning himself and take charge. He was smarter and much more capable than he gave himself credit for and his inner pep talks cracked me up. They sounded very familiar (although I tend not to mention turtles in mine).

I thought Kibi’s storyline was great in this book! His magical ability, for lack of a better term, is so interesting. I love how he just accepted what he could do without a ton of questioning because it was so innate to his identity. Seeing him trying to explain it to someone else always makes me laugh a little. The way he solves problems is unique and so much fun to read!

I still loved Dranko, of course. I feel like he is underappreciated by the others simply because his personality is a little coarse. Sure, he’s prickly on the outside, but his depth of character and quiet selflessness adds so much to the group. That moment of understanding when he learned a little bit more about Grey Wolf was so cool!

More of the characters’ backgrounds were revealed and watching how they reacted to revelations of things previously unmentioned was fascinating. It allowed for a vast amount of character growth without taking away from the action in the book (and there was a lot of action). The story continues to develop beautifully. I loved this book and I can’t wait to read book three.

The Crosser’s Maze is filled with action and even more heart. I highly recommend this series.