The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell

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An interesting thing happened to me with this book: I thought I might have read it before, but I wasn’t positive. I couldn’t say what was going to happen before I read it, but every time something big happened, I’d think, “Oh, yeah…I remember that.” Is it because I’ve actually read this book before, or is it just similar to others I’ve read? I’m still not sure. I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing.

In this particular book, Esta is a thief who steals magical artifacts for her benefactor. She also has the ability to manipulate time, in a world where magic has to be hidden. It’s kept secret from a group called The Order (I guess coming up with a creative name wasn’t all that high on the groups’ list of priorities), which has created kind of a magical wall that keeps everyone with magic from leaving the city.

Esta goes back in time to the 1920’s to steal a magical item before The Order can get to it.  There, she infiltrates a gang in an effort to pull off the heist of this item, and return it to the present. I’m a bit sketchy on why she needed a team for that particular theft, when she tended to work solo, or with just one other person previously.

The similarities between this and Six of Crows are hard to ignore. True, Six of Crows doesn’t have the time travel element, and it takes place in its own world, but there is the band of misfits, the heist aspect, and even the youngish gang leader with the cane. Because of this, the story failed to pull me in. I kept comparing it to Six of Crows without meaning to, which really isn’t fair to this book.

I didn’t really love any of the characters. They all had the potential to be interesting, but they never really developed past surface level. Maybe they become more nuanced in the next book. It can be hard to fully develop a larger group I’d assume, but none of them seemed more than surface-level.

Time travel is touch-and-go for me. I have a hard time with most stories involving it, simply because it can lead to some gaping plotholes. This book did okay with that for the first half or so, but the last little bit had some really big problems. I won’t give anything away, but it didn’t work for me.

This book wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. I get what the author was going for, it just isn’t for me. I’m not going out of my way to read the sequel.


Dungeons, and Dragons, and Books- Oh, My!

Being a happily imaginative nerd, I have a grand time playing Dungeons & Dragons. While there are those of you who don’t, fantasy books- and, more recently- non fantasies can go hand-in-hand. There have been several books over the years that use D&D, or any roleplaying game, as part of the storyline. The most recent example that I’ve read is One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence.I think people who haven’t played have some misconceptions about D&D. I mean, aside from the fact that it’s apparently very evil (insert demonic laughter here), there’s the whole “staring at worksheets and doing math” thing. Here’s the thing, though: if you find a good group of friends, it’s fun. Readers already have an advantage: we are always visiting different worlds.If you’re a bit trepidatious about trying it, but still curious: you can always play a campaign put in a familiar setting. For example:Why not try adventuring in Tolkein’s world?Mouse Guard: if you haven’t read these graphic novels, you really should.Okay, this is cheating because it’s originally based on a show. But, there are books and comics based on the show, so I’m adding Firefly.Those are just a few examples, if you’re not sure about starting with the D&D brand in and of itself. If you have comic/gaming stores in your area, they often host a rpg game once or twice a month.There are no boundaries to what can be done: my favorite games have all been ones done in worlds that my incredibly creative husband has created completely from scratch. All you really need to enter the fantastic world of rpgs is a group, some D&D dice, and your imagination.Go on an adventure, readers!I’m curious: how many of you play D&D? How many of you are interested but unsure where to start?

Genre disappointment

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub

I was going to review a mystery/thriller that I finished not too long ago, but I’ve decided not to review this particular book. It wasn’t poorly written, full of typos, or incoherent. So, why am I not going to review this book, you ask? Three words: mental illness stigma.

Now that you’re probably rolling your eyes and preparing to unfollow my blog, let me give you a bit of my background. Around twenty odd years ago, I was diagnosed as having bipolar type 1, as well as an anxiety disorder. Actually, let me back up: I was diagnosed with grand mal epilepsy, an unspecified sleep disorder, major depressive disorder, and the lovely generalized anxiety disorder. Eventually, bipolar 1 replaced the mdd diagnosis. Then came the pills; lots and lots of them. I was a minor when all this started, so I had very little say in my own treatment (remember…

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Alexis vs. the Afterlife by Marcus Alexander Hart – ARC Review

Alexis McRiott is a foul-mouthed guitar goddess with a passion for hair-metal and groupies of the fairer sex. You’d never recognize this strung-out Hollywood dirtbag as the squeaky-clean kid wizard she used to play on TV.

And that suits her just fine.

But when Alexis is killed in a freak accident, her sitcom past comes back to haunt her. On her first day as a ghost she destroys a rampaging poltergeist using a hex from her old show that, for some reason, actually works.

Impressed by her powers, a deceased medieval prince tries to recruit Alexis in his crusade against otherworldly evil, but she refuses to be his clichéd “chosen one” magical heroine. That is, until she meets his sister-in-arms—a smokin’ hot Chinese railroad worker duty-bound to protect the living from supernatural threats.

Pursued by soul-collecting reapers, this motley crew must stop a paranormal apocalypse that Alexis might have been kinda, sorta, completely responsible for unleashing. But can two dead lesbians and a seven-hundred-year-old tween save the world with sitcom magic?

They don’t stand a ghost of a chance.

Alexis vs. the Afterlife is an urban fantasy comedy perfect for fans of Diana Rowland’s White Trash Zombie books (who want more jokes), fans of Deborah Wilde’s The Unlikeable Demon Hunter (who want less heat), and fans of Barry J. Hutchinson’s Space Team (who want paranormal mayhem instead of, uh… space mayhem.). (Taken from Amazon)

                                      Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review. This will be available on July 9th.

Alexis was a child star on a show that is basically a rip-off of any paranormal show on the CW. She hated it and was only doing it because she was promised a music deal…which never happened. Instead, the show was cancelled,  and she becomes a cynical has-been.

Then, in a weird accident, Alexis finds herself suddenly deceased. Not wanting to join the Great Beyond just yet, Alexis runs from the reaper, and straight into a fight with a poltergeist. Somehow she’s able to destroy it, launching herself rather reluctantly into a quest to stop a Big Bad.

She’s joined by Wycock, a ghost who’s sole purpose is to avenge the destruction of his kingdom, and Yin, who Alexis has a major crush on. Together, they have to cobble together a vanquishing. Not a one of them knows what they’re doing. Oh, dear.

This book was fun, but nothing to write home about. It was full of puns and sarcasm, which I usually love, but about half of it sort of felt forced. The funny was really funny, though, and Wycock cracked me up. He was so earnest, and so completely unprepared.

The pacing was good, although cutting out a few of the action beats could have helped a little. About halfway through, it started to feel a little redundant, and I found my attention wandering. I was pulled back in by the ending, however. The final showdown was entertaining and creative.

This is a fun, fast read. Check it out if you’re looking for a bit of a giggle.

Whisper At the Top of My Lungs by Jeremy J. Simmons- ARC Review

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book, in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available on September 18th.

Korrian is struggling after losing his best friend a year prior to the events in this book. His grades are slipping, he’s pretty isolated, and his only real interaction is when he deals with the bullies at his school.

Heading home one day, he hears crying coming from the cemetery- but there’s no one there, except for the ghost of a girl named Sonnet. She becomes Korrian’s only friend, and is a bit of a sounding board for him as he tries to move on past his friend’s death. He blames himself, even though there’s nothing he could have done.

Eventually, after being suspended from school for fighting, Korrian finds his way into a music shop. There he meets Regan, Lin, and Aisley (aka, the girl of his dreams). Can Korrian find a way to move on and continue his life- even after losing his best friend?

This book was very sweet, and deals with issues of depression, guilt, and grief in a way that was very real, but never felt over-the-top. Korrian was a likable character, and life crapped on him a lot- usually when he was just trying to be a good guy. That can seem pretty freaking easy to relate to some days.  It was sad to see him so lost, but it also made me root for him as he started to learn to continue on after the tragedy he’d experienced.

In fact, most of the characters were just trying to do the best the could with the life they’d been given. I even felt bad for the bullies because it was easy to see that their anger was a misplaced way of dealing with their own hurt and fears. Because of this, I found this book very believable (minus the ghost).

The ending was solid, in that it had a tone of hope. My only gripe is that there were a couple of characters that just wandered into the narrative, stayed long enough to become part of it, then disappeared again. What happened to them? No idea.

That’s a very minor thing, though, and it doesn’t diminish this book in any way.  Well done, Mr. Simmons!

Witches’ Dance by Erin Eileen Almond- ARC Review

Hilda Greer discovered the violin at the age of seven, when she attended a performance by the virtuoso Phillip Manns. She believed him with a child’s faith when he declared himself the reincarnation of Niccolò Paganini and then dashed from the stage, his mind in ruins. Manns disappeared from the music world after that catastrophic performance, but Hilda’s love affair with the violin was just beginning.

Nearly a decade after his breakdown, Phillip Manns lives a reclusive life, safely insulated against the temptations of music—until a former colleague begs him to teach at a nearby conservatory. It’s there that he meets Hilda Greer, who’s come to audition at the insistence of her mother. She plays for him the piece that started it all: Paganini’s Le Streghe, or Witches’ Dance.

Entranced by the character of Hilda’s playing and unable to resist the siren call of music, Phillip takes Hilda under his wing. The two start a witches’ dance of their own, a whirlwind that sweeps them toward the International Paganini Competition. When their curtain falls, one will bask in the music world’s acclaim—and the other’s world will be shattered completely. (taken from Netgalley)

                 Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book, in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available to purchase on October 22nd.

Aside from pointing out that a book might be too harsh for some, I don’t use trigger warnings. In this case,I think I really need to have an official warning, though, because this book is incredibly harsh at times.
**Trigger warning: self-harm, sexual assault**

From moment one, I was drawn into this book. Haunting and beautiful, it’s so lyrically written, I could almost hear the violins playing. I’ve never wished for anything remotely resembling musical talent as much as I did during the beginning of this book.

The characters are so multi-faceted! Phillip Manns was a musical prodigy who, after announcing that he was Pajanini, hid from the world, cutting himself off from all music. He didn’t realize how much he missed it until he found an old record player at a yard sale. Listening to it again, he opens that door into the hidden, flawed parts of himself, and starts down a road that is dangerous to his health and his sanity.

Enter Hilda: a brilliant violinist in her own right, she was at the performance that ruined Phillip Manns’ career. Many years later, she’s still playing, but struggles with severe stage fright and low self-esteem in general. It’s just Hilda and her mother, her musician dad having left when she was young.

Claire (the mom) and Hilda have a very complex and unhealthy relationship. Claire has always had a string of lovers, turning herself into whoever she thinks they want her to be. She needs to feel seen, oftentimes at the expense of her daughter.

One of Phillip’s old friends convinces him to try teaching the violin during a program that Hilda has just enrolled in. She plays the Witches’ Dance, and Phillip recognizes not just her skill but her passion. Things build from that moment.

This book is not comfortable. I skipped certain scenes because I knew they’d be too much for me. But, the author made me care deeply about the story and the characters. She easily showed the ripple effect one small circumstance can cause. I saw the moment that Phillip’s life derailed, and the choices that came closer and closer to taking what he had left.

I saw poor Hilda, and the things that could have destroyed her. I saw her broken relationships with her parents and I wanted to fix them. I understood how she was taken advantage of so completely, mistaking love of music for love of something else. I so badly wanted her to realize her own worth.

There was a certain moment, where someone triumphed despite instead of because, that nearly brought me to tears. And that’s saying something. This is an incredibly harsh book, but it’s stunningly gorgeous. If you can handle reading about harsher circumstances, I highly suggest you pick this book up. It’ll stay with me for quite a while.

Black Wings Beating by Alex London

Admission: I picked this book up simply because Kendare Blake said “Prepare to be riveted”. Does that make me lame? I think it does. Regardless, I quite enjoyed this book.

Brysen and his twin sister, Kylee, live in a society where falconers are everything. The religion is based on falconry. Jobs and prestige are also tied closely to that skill. Both twins want to pay off their debt- the only thing their deceased, abusive, dad left them- and leave their village. Kylee wants a life free from falconry, despite having an almost mystical gift for it. Brysen wants to run away with the boy he loves (who, incidentally, is a jerk of epic proportions).

They’ve almost reached that goal, but things suddenly change. Kylee goes with Brysen to attempt to catch the Ghost Eagle, the most dangerous bird in their world,  in an attempt to save the life of Brysen’s crush. It’s incredibly difficult to capture; in fact, this bird is the cause of their dad’s death. Of course, from there things get complicated, as war rushes toward them.

I probably haven’t described the premise all that well. In this book, the storyline takes back seat to character development. I felt bad for Brysen because he’d been so beaten down by his dad that he was desperate for approval, even though the boy he loved had no regard for him at all. His selfishness (and Brysen was very selfish) came from a place of hurt and loss.

Meanwhile, Kylee would do almost anything for Brysen. She was basically the caregiver, but she also did some really dumb things from time to time. There were a couple of times that I wished I could reach into the book and shake her. I struggled a bit with why she refused to use her power to communicate with birds, even when it would have made things much simpler.

I must say, I saw the twist coming from a mile off. That doesn’t make the book less fun, though. It wasn’t the best book I’ve read this year, but it was a solid fantasy, one that I’ll happily read the sequel to.

The Somnambulist by Johnathan Barnes

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“Be warned. This book has no literary merit whatsoever. It’s a lurid piece of nonsense, convoluted, implausible, peopled by unconvincing characters, written in dreadfully pedestrian prose, frequently ridiculous and willfully bizarre. Needless to say, I doubt you’ll believe a word of it.”
                                                                                                                                  -The Narrator

I don’t think I’m smart enough for this book. It’s set in London, in the late Victorian era. It’s about Edward Moon, a has-been magician and amateur detective. Together with The Somnambulist, a huge, silent man who doesn’t bleed when stabbed, Edward Moon sets out to solve what may be their last big case.

It starts as a simple murder, but soon evolves into a complicated morass that is simultaneously interesting and incredibly confusing. I’m honestly not sure how I feel about this book. There are good things about it- like the unreliable narrator-, but there are also things I really didn’t like (there are a ridiculous amount of unimportant characters to try to keep track of). I’m not entirely sure I even understand the ending, although that might be because I was sick and groggy when I finished the book.

Usually, I love ambiguous endings, but this book left so many threads dangling, that I’m left unsure as to whether or not it actually ended. There is a sequel, but it was written many years later. I wonder if it was written specifically to answer some of the many questions remaining.

Regardless, the author is very talented. Whether you end up enjoying the book or not, you will be unable to deny that it is one of the most original out there.

The Mercenary Code by Emmet Moss

Break the Code. Shatter the World. 

Centuries ago, the murder of a beloved king tore apart the Kingdom of Caledun. The land was plunged into chaos and thousands perished in the aftermath. A new order was established in an attempt to return Caledun to its former glory. It failed, but in its place rose the beginnings of the Code. 

During this same period, the mystical caretakers of the Great Wood retreated from the world of Kal Maran, their disappearance an ominous harbinger of the suffering that was to follow. The Great Wood now grows out of control. Cities, towns, and villages have fallen before the relentless march of the forest. Without the former guardians to keep her tame, the wood has become a place of peril, and dark creatures of legend now hunt beneath its leaves. 

The summer season is now a time of armed conflict. The fall of the old monarchy has brought about a ceaseless cycle of combat. Grievances are settled by the strict tenets of a binding Mercenary Code and the men who would die to preserve its honour. 

However, change is in the air. Political rivalries have escalated, and dire rumblings of a revolution abound. Thrust to the forefront of the shattered land’s politics, a mercenary fights for more than just riches. In the north, a borderland soldier wrestles with his own demons and looks to find his true purpose. And in the shadow of the Great Wood, a young man’s chance encounter with a strange visitor gives hope to a land divided. (taken from Goodreads)

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

This book had its pros and cons. At first it moved very slowly, to the point where I got bored. There was a lot of setup, which I’m used to in this sort of fantasy book, but it was a bit of an info dump, which I was not a fan of. It felt very unnatural and was too much all at once.

However, once this book got going, it had a Tad Williams (the author of To Green Angel Tower) feel to it, in that it was a well thought out world. It left a lot of room for the story to continue to develop in the next installment in the series.

This is a shorter review than I usually post, simply because this book didn’t really stick with me. If I come across the sequel at the library at some point, I might pick it up, but this isn’t an author that I’ll go out of my way to look for.

Between Worlds: Folktales of Britain and Ireland by Kevin Crossley -Holland- ARC Review

Rich and strange, these eerie and magical folktales from across Britain and Ireland have been passed down from generation to generation, and are gathered together in a definitive new collection from the master storyteller and winner of the Carnegie Medal, Kevin Crossley-Holland. Dark and funny, lyrical and earthy, these fifty stories are part of an important and enduring historical tradition that dates back hundreds of years. Described by Neil Gaiman as the “master”, Crossley-Holland’s unforgettable retellings will capture the imagination of readers young and old alike. (taken from Amazon)

                     Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this, in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available to purchase on October 8th.

This is the sort of book I love. I’m a huge fan of fairy stories and folktales, especially those from Ireland. They’re rich and magical. So, I went into this with the expectation that I’d enjoy it. And I did, indeed.

This is a very well-rounded collection. There were some stories that I’d already heard versions of, such as Tom-Tit-Tom, but also many that I hadn’t. The book was divided into different sections, based on the type of story was being told. For example, one section was devoted to Tricksters and Fools.

This book had it all. I’m a sucker for fairies, and there were fairies galore. And changelings; boggarts; giants! Everything my fantasy-loving heart could desire. They were told with great care taken to ensure the integrity of the way the stories were originally told. It was wonderful. I was reminded of the stories I read when I was young that made me fall in love with fantasy of all kind.

If you enjoy fairy tales, or fantasy of any kind, this is one to add to your collection.