Book Review: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer (The Lunar Chronicles #2)

Book Review:  Scarlet by Marissa Meyer (The Lunar Chronicles #2)Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles, #2) by Marissa Meyer
four-half-stars
Series: The Lunar Chronicles, #2
Published by Feiwel & Friends on February 5th 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 454
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

My Review of Scarlet:

The Lunar Chronicles series is definitely one of the most original and entertaining retellings I’ve come across in recent years.  As was the case when I read Cinder, I totally flew through the 450+ pages of Scarlet in just a couple of day because the story being told is just so darn good!  I also love that even though this series is a fairytale retelling, it doesn’t really feel like we’re just rehashing a story that has already been told.  Meyer may use those fairytale characters as the jumping off point for her story and may incorporate a few elements here and there — like little shoutouts to those fairy tales – but her story is truly an original.  It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before and I love that freshness about it.

As you can probably guess from the title, Scarlet is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, with Scarlet in the Red Riding Hood role (complete with fiery hair and a little red hoodie that she loves to wear).  As with the original Red Riding Hood tale, there is also a grandmother who is in danger, as well as a wolf (well, a character named Wolf anyway).  From there, as I said, the story takes off on a completely original path that eventually ties it in to Cinder’s story from the first book in the series.

Things I Loved:

Strong Women:  I have to say I loved Scarlet every bit as much as I loved Cinder.  They’re quite different from each other in the sense that Scarlet tends to be more brazen and rash than Cinder, but bottom line, they’re both fiercely protective of those they love and are determined to stop anyone who means them harm.  It’s great to have these two strong, smart females leading the series.

The Plot Thickens:  I especially loved how effectively Meyer begins this second book with a whole set of new characters and a whole new storyline.  Scarlet is trying to find out what has happened to her grandmother, who has mysteriously gone missing early on in the book.  Along the way, Scarlet meets this odd Wolf character and enlisted him to help her.  As their story unfolds, Meyer weaves the tale in such a way that it seamlessly entwines with the storyline from the first book in the series, and all of the major players in both books end up working together.

Chemistry:  Let me start here by saying that I think The Lunar Chronicles series so far has been, for me anyway, the perfect mix of action and epic adventure with a hint of romantic potential thrown in to spice things up.  I found Scarlet and Wolf to be just as likable as a potential pairing as I did Cinder and Prince Kai from the first book.

What kind of surprised me though was how much I LOVED newcomer “Captain” Carswell Thorne. who was charming in his own roguish, kind of clueless way and who often provided a bit of comic relief throughout the story.  I think he’s meant to be a minor player, but in many ways, he steals the show as soon as he appears in the story when Cinder comes across him trying to download porn in prison.  He and Cinder accidentally cross paths after Cinder is imprisoned at the end of the first book, and they decide to break out of prison together.  Adventure ensues (as well as a great deal of chemistry, in my opinion).  Even though Cinder clearly has feelings for Prince Kai, I actually have to confess that I found myself shipping her a bit with Thorne.  I’m probably the only reader on the planet who did, but I just loved their banter and found their interactions to be a lot more natural and realistic than I found those between Cinder and Kai in the first book.  I’m curious to see who, if anyone, Cinder ends up paired with, but at this point, I’d be cool with either Thorne or Kai.

Plot Twists:  I don’t want to give any important plot details away, so I’m just going to say that If you like plot twists, you’ll love Scarlet then because it’s full of them!  All I’ll say is that if you thought the idea of Cinderella as a Cyborg was WOW!, wait until you see how Meyer pays homage to the wolf from Little Red Riding Hood.  It’s mind blowing!

Anything I Didn’t Love:

Queen LeVana:  Ugh, I also didn’t think it was possible to loathe Queen LeVana anymore than I did in Cinder, but yep, it’s definitely possible.  She is just pure evil and I can’t wait to read the next book in hopes that Cinder, Scarlet, and their companions finally take her down once and for all.

 

Final Thoughts?

If you’re looking for a truly unique read, definitely give The Lunar Chronicles a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

 

Rating:  4.5 stars

four-half-stars

About Marissa Meyer

meyer

“One of my first spoken words was “story” (right along with “bath” and “cookie”), my favorite toy as an infant was a soft, squishable book, and I’ve wanted to be a writer since I first realized such a job existed.

When I was fourteen my best friend introduced me to anime and fanfiction—over the years I would complete over forty Sailor Moon fanfics under the penname Alicia Blade. Those so inclined can still find my first stories at fanfiction.net. Writing fanfic turned out to be awesome fun and brought me in contact with an amazing group of fanfiction readers and writers. As Alicia Blade, I also had a novelette, “The Phantom of Linkshire Manor,” published in the gothic romance anthology Bound in Skin (CatsCurious Press, 2007).

When I was sixteen I worked at The Old Spaghetti Factory in Tacoma, Washington, affectionately termed “The Spag.” (Random factoid: This is also the restaurant where my parents met some 25 years before.) I attended Pacific Lutheran University where I sorted mail that came to the dorm, carted tables and chairs around campus, and took writing classes, eventually earning a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Children’s Literature. Knowing I wanted a career in books, I would also go on to receive a Master’s degree in Publishing from Pace University (which you can learn more about here). After graduation, I worked as an editor in Seattle for a while before becoming a freelance typesetter and proofreader.

Then, day of days, someone thought it would be a good idea to give me a book deal, so I became a full-time writer. CINDER was my first completed novel, though I have an adorable collection of unfinished ones lying around, too.

I married my husband in 2011, two months before the release of Cinder, and we adopted our two beautiful twin daughters, Sloane and Delaney, in 2015. Reading lots and lots of bedtime stories is most definitely a new favorite pastime.”

Marissa Meyer in her own words, from www.marissameyer.com

ARC Review of The Bone Witch

ARC Review of The Bone WitchThe Bone Witch (The Bone Witch, #1) by Rin Chupeco
two-half-stars
Series: The Bone Witch #1
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on March 7th 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:  The beast raged; it punctured the air with its spite. But the girl was fiercer.

Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living—and of the human.

Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. There, Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong—stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves.

My Review:

The Bone Witch follows the story of a young witch named Tea (pronounced Tay Uh).  Tea wants to train to become an asha.  There are several different kinds of asha, all of whom can weave spells to a certain degree using elemental magic, with the rarest of all ashas being the Dark Asha, or Bone Witches, who have the power to raise the dead.  When Tea accidentally raises her brother from the dead at his funeral, she realizes that she is one of those rare dark asha.  She is then removed from her home and sent to train with an older, more experienced dark asha because she must be trained how to wield the dark asha magic.

 

What I Enjoyed:

What I enjoyed the most about The Bone Witch was Chupeco’s writing and her world building.  – the way Chupeco describes these ashas with their elaborate costumes, their gorgeous jeweled hairpins, their graceful movements, and their painted faces had me envisioning magic-wielding geishas.  The descriptions were just so vivid and beautiful.

I was also really into the story early on because it had such a unique premise.  I loved the idea that there were so many different kinds of ashas, each with their own unique abilities, and I was also intrigued by the idea that the dark asha’s magic was often feared in the various kingdoms, which we witnessed throughout Tea’s training.  I loved the air of mystery it lent to the dark asha.

I was also especially into the story because Tea’s newly resurrected zombie brother now basically follows her around everywhere she goes and is considered her familiar.  It’s totally cute (in a creepy sort of way).

I think my favorite part about the story was how it was structured.  In between the chapters that take us with Tea through her early days of training to be a dark asha, we are given small teasers of Tea in the future.  In these teasers, what we see is that Tea has been exiled to a deserted island and is plotting revenge against those who sent her there.  As part of her revenge, she is also using her dark magic and skeletal remains that are on the island to build herself an army of undead beasts.  These teasers really help to build up the suspense as we’re left to wonder 1) what in the world Tea could have done that was bad enough to yield such a punishment for her and 2) wow, how powerful is her magic that she can build such a monstrous army to unleash on her enemies?  You just know as your reading those teasers that we’re in store for something huge as we continue reading about younger Tea’s training.

What I Didn’t Like:

My biggest issue with The Bone Witch is that even though I loved the descriptive writing, overall there was just too much description and not enough action.  Once Tea found out she was a bone witch and left to begin her training, it just didn’t feel like much else happened. Tea spends what feels like forever working as some kind of indentured servant before she actually even starts training. Then once it is determined she can finally start training, more time is spent describing a shopping spree to buy her the proper robes (referred to as hua) and jeweled hairpins than is spent describing what she’s learning.

Then once the story does start to focus more on the training, we have long descriptions of dance moves she is learning and instruments she is learning to play and we just breeze through other elements of the training, like fighting, that probably would be more interesting.  As much as I loved the descriptive passages early on, I really started to get bored with the lengthy descriptions of the patterns on asha’s hua.  This continued to be an issue for me throughout the book.  Every outfit that each asha wore was described in such great detail, but in comparison, a terrifying attack that kills 20 soldiers is just a blip on the radar. It seemed like, in so many cases, the main action of the story really took a backseat to descriptions of items that didn’t seem nearly as important.

Who Would I Recommend The Bone Witch to?

I think I would recommend The Bone Witch to readers who don’t mind a very slow build to what could perhaps end up being a truly phenomenal series.  Those teasers that we get of Tea on the deserted island hint that big things are going to happen and those big things are going to be pretty darn exciting.  Even though I was disappointed with the lack of action in this first book, I definitely see myself continuing with the series because I feel like the second book has the potential to be a great read.

Thanks to Netgalley, the publisher, and Rin Chupeco for providing me with an e-galley of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Rating:  2.5 stars

 

two-half-stars

About Rin Chupeco

Despite an unsettling resemblance to Japanese revenants, Rin always maintains her sense of hummus. Born and raised in Manila, Philippines, she keeps four pets: a dog, two birds, and a husband. Dances like the neighbors are watching.  She is represented by Rebecca Podos of the Helen Rees Agency.

Book Review: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

Book Review:  A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. MaasA Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #2) by Sarah J. Maas
four-half-stars
Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses #2
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on May 3rd 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 624
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.

With more than a million copies sold of her beloved Throne of Glass series, Sarah J. Maas’s masterful storytelling brings this second book in her seductive and action-packed series to new heights.

My Review:

I have to confess I’ve been putting off reading A Court of Mist and Fury, partly because I loved A Court of Thorns and Roses so much that I just didn’t think the second book could possibly live up to the impossibly high expectations I had for it.  I finally broke down and read it this week for the Beat the Backlist challenge I’m participating in and all I can say at this point is WOW and OMG, how long do I have to wait to get my hands on the third book?!

I had actually managed to avoid spoilers for ACOMAF so I had no clue what to expect going in and man, was I shocked! Based on the events of ACOTAR and the direction I was anticipating the series moving in, in my mind, this entire book was a giant plot twist.  And what a glorious plot twist it was! I truly loved pretty much everything about it.

Here are a few of the biggest highlights for me:

 

Rhysand!

Rhysand was actually one of my favorite characters from the first book and I remember lamenting that I wished there had been more of him in that story. Well, I got my wish in A Court of Mist and Fury because Rhysand and the Night Court feature prominently in this book.  As much as I adored him as the handsome but amusing rogue we met in A Court of Thorns and Roses, my love for him grew tenfold as we got to actually learn more about him and the sacrifices that he has made for his people.  He may present himself as a devilish figure, but there’s really just so much more to him than that.  He’s a fierce warrior, a loyal friend, and a compassionate ruler.

Theme of Female Empowerment:

The theme of female empowerment really resonated with me in this book.  As much of an epic romance as Feyre and Tamlin seemed to have in A Court of Thorn and Roses, they are clearly not the same two people they were after everything they went through “under the mountain” at the hands of Amrantha.  After nearly losing her, Tamlin becomes so overprotective of Feyre that their relationship takes a very unhealthy turn and he basically imprisons her in his home, perhaps the worst thing he could have done to someone who is already reeling from having been imprisoned and forced to do things she never thought she would have to do.  As sad as it was to see their relationship fall apart, I liked that Maas had Feyre make a conscious choice to walk away from the unhealthy relationship that is practically suffocating her.  I thought that was a positive message for Maas to send out there to her female readers.

And even though she does end up in another relationship, this time it’s a healthy relationship where she is allowed the freedom she needs and where she is treated as an equal, not as some pretty plaything that needs to be protected and sheltered.  Plus, it wasn’t as though she just rushed from one to the other; it took nearly the entire book for her to embrace the idea of beginning a new relationship.  I found the way the relationship developed to be very realistic and I really loved Feyre that much more once she evolved into an even fiercer version of the Feyre we met in the first book.  She’s a real badass by the end of A Court of Mist and Fury!

Rhysand’s team:

OMG, I love these guys so much!  One of the things that really makes a book work for me is when the author creates a fantastic group of secondary characters and Maas really outdoes herself here. ACOMAF probably has one of the best I’ve read in recent years with Mor, Cassian, Aziel, and Amren.  I loved the dynamic between them.  They could laugh and poke fun at each other in one breath, but when it mattered, they would clearly fight to the death to protect one another.  They are so much more than just the High Lord’s chosen team; they are his family.  Each character was so unique, fascinating, and so well fleshed out that I found myself wishing Maas would give each of them spin-off series of their own.  I’d totally read them if she did!

So Much Action!

I don’t want to give away any details, but this book clearly isn’t just about Feyre recovering from what happened to her in the first book and finding love with a different man than we were expecting her to.  If you like lots of action, epic battle scenes, unexpected betrayals, and lots of plot twists, you’re going to love this book because it’s all here.  The book starts off at a fairly slow and steady pace as we watch Feyre begin her recovery, but once she leaves Tamlin, the pace really picks up and by about the halfway point, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough!

Anything I Didn’t Like: 

As I said, I loved pretty much everything about the book. That said, however, I was a little disappointed in the direction that Maas chose to take Tamlin in.  He wasn’t my favorite character by any stretch in the first book, but it bothered me that he was made so unlikeable in this one.   I kept wondering if that was really necessary.

Who Would I Recommend A Court of Mist and Fury to?

I’d recommend this book to pretty much anyone who enjoys fantasy that is filled with action, adventure, and complicated relationships.  I’d personally probably only recommend it to older readers of YA fiction just because it does contain some pretty graphic sexual encounters.  It’s a great read though so I’d highly recommend it to anyone else.

 

Rating:  4.5 Stars

four-half-stars

About Sarah J. Maas

Sarah J. Maas is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Throne of Glass series and A Court of Thorns and Roses series, as well as a USA Today and international bestselling author. Sarah wrote the first incarnation of the Throne of Glass series when she was just sixteen, and it has now sold in thirty-five languages. A New York native, Sarah currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and dog. Empire of Storms, the fifth Throne of Glass novel, will release on September 6th, 2016.

She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Hamilton College in 2008 with a degree in Creative Writing and a minor in Religious Studies.

ARC Review – Piper Perish

ARC Review – Piper PerishPiper Perish by Kayla Cagan
three-half-stars
Published by Chronicle Books on March 7th 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:  Piper Perish inhales air and exhales art. The sooner she and her best friends can get out of Houston and into art school in New York City, the better. It’s been Piper’s dream her whole life, and now that senior year is halfway over, she’s never felt more ready. But in the final months before graduation, things are weird with her friends and stressful with three different guys, and Piper’s sister’s tyrannical mental state seems to thwart every attempt at happiness for the close-knit Perish family. Piper’s art just might be enough to get her out. But is she brave enough to seize that power, even if it means giving up what she’s always known?

Debut author Kayla Cagan breathes new life into fiction in this ridiculously compelling, utterly authentic work featuring interior art from Rookie magazine illustrator Maria Ines Gul. Piper will have readers asking big questions along with her. What is love? What is friendship? What is family? What is home? And who is a person when she’s missing any one of these things?

* * * * *

 

My Review:

Kayla Cagan’s debut novel, Piper Perish, is what I would consider to be a coming of age story.  It follows high school senior and artist Piper Perish and her best friends, Kit and Enzo, also artists, as they navigate the trials and tribulations of that final year of high school and prepare for what comes next.  As the novel opens, we’re already at the halfway point of their senior year, and we learn that Piper, Kit, and Enzo have devised a plan where they will all leave Texas after graduation and move to New York City to attend art school together.  While it sounds like a fantastic plan in theory, it leaves a lot to chance.  What if they don’t all get into the schools they apply to? Will they be able to afford it, etc.?  All of the ‘What ifs’ weigh heavily on Piper’s mind throughout the novel because moving to New York to study art has always been her dream. She doesn’t know how she’ll cope if things don’t go according to their plan.  I know it sounds like a heavy read at first glance, but don’t let that fool you. It’s actually quite fun.  The bright, artsy cover was what initially caught my eye and,  after reading the synopsis, I picked it up because I was looking for a light contemporary read to offset all of the heavy dystopian fiction I’ve been reading lately and it sounded like Piper Perish would fit the bill.

What I Enjoyed:

I’d have to say that Piper herself is probably my favorite part of the book.  Piper’s passion for art, her obsession with artist Andy Warhol (She’s totally a ‘What Would Andy Do?’ kind of girl), her quirky flair for fashion, among other things, just make her someone that you wish you knew and could just hang out with.  Written in the form of a diary, the novel really lets us inside Piper’s head and heart as she pours all of her thoughts, dreams, and frustrations, into her diary. I thought Cagan did a tremendous job of creating an authentic high school experience and in giving Piper an equally authentic and vibrant teenage girl voice.  As I read Piper’s thoughts, I was transported back to my own high school senior year and could vividly remember going through so many of the same experiences.  Piper is a very relatable character precisely because she does represent so many things that we all went through in high school:  the dreams, the worrying, the self-doubt, and so on. I found myself starting to care about her from that very first page and really wanting her to push through all of the obstacles standing in her way so that her dreams could become a reality.

What I especially liked about Piper was watching her really grow up and mature throughout the second half of her senior year.  She is definitely not the same girl at the end of the novel that she is when we first meet her. Yes, she’s still quirky, fun, and lives and breathes art, but she’s also braver, more willing to stand up for herself and fight for what she wants, and she definitely has a greater sense of who she is and where she belongs.  I really liked the evolution of her character.

Aside from Piper, I also really liked all of the themes that the book covered. In addition to the everyday dramas of high school, it also tackles bigger themes like friendship, family, and love.  Piper spends much of her senior year learning what it means to be a friend through thick and thin as she and her friends each encounter obstacles, some of which put them at odds with each other.  Piper also spends a lot of time reflecting on the different degrees of love as relationships around her evolve and change  – the love of a boyfriend and girlfriend, the love between friends, the love of family members no matter how frustrated you get with them (or in the case of Piper’s sister, Marli, how much they deliberately try to make you miserable).

The discussion of art also fascinated me as I read this book.  I’m about as artistic as a rock, so I loved watching the creative process at work as Piper, Kit, Enzo, and their fellow classmates worked to create their senior projects.  I actually found myself wishing I had a paper copy of the book rather than an e-galley as well because there are little sketches here and there throughout the novel that I’m sure are much cooler in full color.

Anything I Didn’t Like:

I have to say I wasn’t big on the way the book was put together. I did love the first person point of view because I think it really helped me connect with Piper better. The diary style just didn’t really work for me.  It did at first because it really felt like I was reading the diary of a teenage girl, but then it started to feel less like a diary or journal and more just like a standard first person narrative broken up by dates. I never kept a diary or journal myself, but I still just couldn’t imagine that one would contain whole conversations between people quoted verbatim or that it would contain complete emails that Piper was receiving from her friend Silas. I can’t say that it took away from my enjoyment of the story at all, but I did feel like it had me pondering the structure of the book more than I would have liked.

I hate to say it, but I was not a big fan of either Piper’s sister, Marli, or of their parents.  Marli, who has just moved back home because she got pregnant while away at college, spends the bulk of the novel storming around screaming and yelling at anyone and everyone who crosses her path, especially Piper, who seems to be her favorite target.  I found it incredibly frustrating that Piper’s parents basically allowed Marli to verbally abuse Piper on a daily basis and that all of them, including Marli’s baby daddy once he moved in with them, simply tiptoed around her to try to keep the venomous raging to a minimum.  Most of the time their parents just chalked her outrageous behavior up to pregnancy hormones, but every once in a while particularly when Piper was really about to lose it and really go off on Marlie, then they would admit that Marli has been like this her entire life.  My question at this point is then why haven’t her parents done more to get her help – her behavior is clearly not normal.  I’m not a psychologist or a therapist, but it seems like Marli is living her life with an undiagnosed mental illness.  I was sympathetic to Marli in that sense and really wanted something to happen to acknowledge that she was going through some kind of mental health issue. Nothing did though so I ultimately just found her very hard to stomach because as she was presented, she was little more than a constant source of over-the-top drama.

As much as Marli bothered me, I think her parents actually bothered me more — not just because of how they let things go with Marli, but also because they were overall so unsupportive of Piper and her dreams.  Throughout the course of the book, they were probably the biggest obstacle that Piper faced because everything Piper wanted took a back seat to Marli and her drama and then to her parent’s poor planning when it came to their children’s college funds.  If you know your daughter has been dreaming her entire life of moving to New York City to study art, and she is clearly a gifted artist, wouldn’t you be doing everything you possibly can to try to make that dream a reality?  I hate to judge, but I was just very disappointed in their parenting abilities.

One other minor quibble I had with the storyline was how conveniently some obstacles were wrapped up in the closing pages of the book.  I can’t say much without giving away major plot points, but I just thought that what happened to Piper was something that would never happen in real life.  Younger readers will probably love it, but the jaded old lady in me was just like ‘Umm no, that would never happen in real life.’

Who Would I Recommend Piper Perish to?

I would most definitely recommend it to teenagers. It’s a fast and entertaining read, and I think teens will easily related to Piper’s journey.  I honestly can’t decide if this is one of those YA books that translates well for older readers though. I could see some older readers finding it a little over dramatic at times and thinking  “Kid, you think your life is stressful now, wait until you’re out on your own.”

Thanks so much to Netgalley, Chronicle, and Kayla Cagan for allowing me to preview this book in exchange for my honest review.

 

Rating:  3.5 Stars
three-half-stars

About Kayla Cagan

Kayla Cagan is from Houston, Texas. Piper Perish is her debut YA novel, with a second novel on the way from Chronicle Books in 2018. Her short plays and monologues have been published by Applause Books and Smith and Kraus. She has also contributed comics and essays to assorted collections, including Girl Crush Zine, Womanthology, and Unite and Take Over: Stories Inspired by the Smiths. Cagan lives with her husband, screenwriter Josh A. Cagan and their dog, chihuahua Banjo L. Cagan, in Los Angeles.

Book Review: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Book Review:  Practical Magic by Alice HoffmanPractical Magic by Alice Hoffman
three-stars
Published by Putnam Adult on June 13th 1995
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 244
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  The bestselling author of Second Nature, Illumination Night and Turtle Moon now offers her most fascinating and tantalizingly accomplished novel yet — a winning tale that amply confirms Alice Hoffman’s reputation not only as a genius of the vivid scene and unforgettable character but as one of America’s most captivating storytellers.

When the beautiful and precocious sisters Sally and Gillian Owens are orphaned at a young age, they are taken to a small Massachusetts town to be raised by their eccentric aunts, who happen to dwell in the darkest, eeriest house in town. As they become more aware of their aunts’ mysterious and sometimes frightening powers — and as their own powers begin to surface — the sisters grow determined to escape their strange upbringing by blending into “normal” society.

But both find that they cannot elude their magic-filled past. And when trouble strikes — in the form of a menacing backyard ghost — the sisters must not only reunite three generations of Owens women but embrace their magic as a gift — and their key to a future of love and passion. Funny, haunting, and shamelessly romantic, Practical Magic is bewitching entertainment — Alice Hoffman at her spectacular best.

My Review:

Practical Magic is the second book that I’ve read from Alice Hoffman. I read her 2016 release Faithful last fall and fell in love with it, so my sister, who is a huge Alice Hoffman fan, loaned me this book as well as several other Hoffman novels. I chose Practical Magic since it was the one I had heard the most about, primarily because of the movie of the same name.

Practical Magic tells the story of Sally and Gillian Owens, two sisters who are orphaned at a young age and are taken in by their eccentric aunts. We soon learn that the seeming eccentricity is actually magic and that the aunts are apparently witches of some sort.  They are, for the most part, shunned by the people in the community, unless of course, someone is desperately seeking help in the form of perhaps a love potion or some other magical concoction.  Superstitions abound when it comes to these aunts and, as Sally and Gillian now live with them, the superstitions soon surround them as well and they spend their time either being mocked relentlessly or else avoided entirely by their classmates.  That is, until they hit puberty and Gillian, in particular, becomes quite the magnet for boys.  Without even trying, she practically has them falling at her feet. At first, this comes across a little silly and over-dramatic until it clicks that these girls probably have some magical powers of their own that they’re unaware of.  Gillian eventually runs off with one of her many suitors and begins her adult life basically moving from city to city, following man after man when each relationship doesn’t ultimately work out.  Sally, who spent much of her time in Gillian’s shadow while she was living at home, eventually finds someone who falls madly in love with her as well and they live happily with the aunts and begin their own family. But then tragedy strikes and the young man is killed. Looking for a fresh start and a “normal” life for her children, Sally too leaves the aunts behind and moves to a new city.  Sally grieves for her dead husband for a long time but eventually starts to feel more like herself and starts living again. All goes smoothly until one fateful night when Gillian shows up on her doorstep unannounced, bringing a world of trouble with her.

 What I Loved:

What really stood out for me in Practical Magic, even more so than the actual magic, is the authentic portrayal of the sisterly relationship.  In these relationships, Hoffman is a master of really getting the reader inside the mind of her characters and then perfectly capturing all of the emotional complexities of what it feels like to have a sister: the love, the jealousy, the rivalry and competitiveness, the protectiveness and loyalty, and even the occasional disappointment that sisters feel for each other.  Sally is often jealous of Gillian because of her incredible beauty and her ability to attract male admirers without even trying.  When Gillian leaves home and basically falls man after man around the country, Sally is incredibly disappointed in her and is not at all happy when Gillian turns back up on her doorstep years later looking for help.  But ultimately that sisterly love and sense of loyalty wins out and Sally takes her sister in.  The relationship between Sally’s daughters, although a minor part of the book in comparison, is still portrayed with that same sense of authenticity.

I also really liked the book’s main theme, which centers around the importance of family.  No matter how hard Gillian and Sally try to avoid their past and escape from the embarrassment of being associated with their aunts and whatever magic they may possess, they still ultimately need them when the going gets tough.  And even though both girls basically abandon their aunts because of that embarrassment, the aunts come running, no questions asked, as soon as they hear the girls are in trouble and need their help.  Just like no matter how upset Sally is at Gillian for showing up on her doorstep and bringing trouble with her, she still loves her and would do anything for her, without question, even if it means turning her own life upside down.  That’s what family is all about.

When it comes to this theme, I actually found the synopsis of the book to be quite misleading.  Practical Magic is described as “funny, haunting, and shamelessly romantic.” That’s not how I would describe the story at all.  While I did find it to be haunting and almost eerie at times, especially because of the trouble Gillian brings to town, I didn’t find the book to be especially humorous at all. As I’m sitting here thinking about the story, I can’t even recall a single funny moment actually.  And while the two sisters were definitely seeking love, I can’t say that I found this to be “shamelessly romantic” either.  The synopsis makes it sound like it’s going to be a light-hearted romantic comedy, but I found it to be a much heavier, more dramatic read, which for me is a good thing since I’m not typically big on romantic reads or chick lit of any kind.

Misleading blurb aside, another element of Practical Magic I loved was the writing itself.  Hoffman’s writing is just atmospheric and mesmerizing– vivid and lyrical – but without being overdone or overly wordy.  The writing doesn’t move at a fast pace, but the sentences just glide from one to the next, smooth as silk.  As I was reading this story, I kept wondering if she has ever written any poetry because if so, I’d certainly love to read it. I’m sure it’s absolutely beautiful.  Below are a few sample lines from Practical Magic:

“Do you ever just put your arms out and just spin and spin and spin? Well, that’s what love is like; everything inside of you tells you to stop before you fall, but for some reason you just keep going.” 

“You can never tell about a person by guessing…that’s why language was invented. Otherwise, we’d all be like dogs, sniffing each other to find out where we stood.” 

“Some things, when they change, never do return to the way they once were. Butterflies for instance, and women who’ve been in love with the wrong man too often.” 

What I Didn’t Love So Much:

 I have to say that I didn’t particularly care for the way the novel was structured.  Instead of being broken into manageable chapters, it was organized into 4 or 5 lengthy sections.  Since the read isn’t a fast-paced read, I found myself getting a little bored at times and wanting to find a good stopping point.  Since there were so few natural breaks in the story, I often found myself just leaving off mid page at the end of a random paragraph because I’d just give up trying to make it to one of the breaks.  The section titles – Superstition, Premonitions, etc.  – were great in the sense that they really added to the book’s slightly supernatural atmosphere, but I still definitely would have preferred more chapters.

The structure also tended to make the different points of view more confusing to follow than I think they would have been if the story had been organized differently.  The point of view jumped back and forth quite a bit between the different characters so that I sometimes had to backtrack to see who I was reading about and, in some cases, to figure out if the event being depicted was in the present or if it was a memory.  I had that problem several times with Gillian as she kept randomly thinking back on her time with her abusive ex Jimmy.

Who Would I Recommend Practical Magic to?

From other reviews I’ve read, many readers who have watched the movie Practical Magic think that the movie is actually better than the book.  I haven’t watched the movie so I can’t attest to that, but I saw similar comments enough to say that I’d probably recommend the book to someone who hasn’t seen the movie yet.  Even with my issues with the way it was structured, I still found Practical Magic to be a solid and entertaining read with realistic characters and relationships but also with that little added magical twist to spice things up a bit.  It’s also such an atmospheric and, at times, almost spooky read that I kept wishing I had saved it to read in October.  It would make for an excellent Halloween read.

 

Rating: 3 stars

three-stars

About Alice Hoffman

alice hoffman

Alice Hoffman was born in New York City on March 16, 1952 and grew up on Long Island. After graduating from high school in 1969, she attended Adelphi University, from which she received a BA, and then received a Mirrellees Fellowship to the Stanford University Creative Writing Center, which she attended in 1973 and 74, receiving an MA in creative writing. She currently lives in Boston.

Hoffman’s first novel, Property Of, was written at the age of twenty-one, while she was studying at Stanford, and published shortly thereafter by Farrar Straus and Giroux. She credits her mentor, professor and writer Albert J. Guerard, and his wife, the writer Maclin Bocock Guerard, for helping her to publish her first short story in the magazine Fiction. Editor Ted Solotaroff then contacted her to ask if she had a novel, at which point she quickly began to write what was to become Property Of, a section of which was published in Mr. Solotaroff’s magazine, American Review.

Since that remarkable beginning, Alice Hoffman has become one of our most distinguished novelists. She has published a total of twenty-three novels, three books of short fiction, and eight books for children and young adults. Her novel, Here on Earth, an Oprah Book Club choice, was a modern reworking of some of the themes of Emily Bronte’s masterpiece Wuthering Heights. Practical Magic was made into a Warner film starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. Her novel, At Risk, which concerns a family dealing with AIDS, can be found on the reading lists of many universities, colleges and secondary schools. Hoffman’s advance from Local Girls, a collection of inter-related fictions about love and loss on Long Island, was donated to help create the Hoffman Breast Center at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, MA. Blackbird House is a book of stories centering around an old farm on Cape Cod. Hoffman’s recent books include Aquamarine and Indigo, novels for pre-teens, and The New York Times bestsellers The River King, Blue Diary, The Probable Future, and The Ice Queen. Green Angel, a post-apocalyptic fairy tale about loss and love, was published by Scholastic and The Foretelling, a book about an Amazon girl in the Bronze Age, was published by Little Brown. In 2007 Little Brown published the teen novel Incantation, a story about hidden Jews during the Spanish Inquisition, which Publishers Weekly has chosen as one of the best books of the year. Her most recent novels include The Third Angel,The Story Sisters, the teen novel, Green Witch, a sequel to her popular post-apocalyptic fairy tale, Green Angel. The Red Garden, published in 2011, is a collection of linked fictions about a small town in Massachusetts where a garden holds the secrets of many lives.

Hoffman’s work has been published in more than twenty translations and more than one hundred foreign editions. Her novels have received mention as notable books of the year by The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, Library Journal, and People Magazine. She has also worked as a screenwriter and is the author of the original screenplay “Independence Day,” a film starring Kathleen Quinlan and Diane Wiest. Her teen novel Aquamarine was made into a film starring Emma Roberts. Her short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe Magazine, Kenyon Review, The Los Angeles Times, Architectural Digest, Harvard Review, Ploughshares and other magazines.

Toni Morrison calls The Dovekeepers “.. a major contribution to twenty-first century literature” for the past five years. The story of the survivors of Masada is considered by many to be Hoffman’s masterpiece. The New York Times bestselling novel is slated for 2015 miniseries, produced by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, starring Cote de Pablo of NCIS fame.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things was released in 2014 and was an immediate bestseller, The New York Times Book Review noting, “A lavish tale about strange yet sympathetic people, haunted by the past and living in bizarre circumstances… Imaginative…”

Nightbird, a Middle Reader, was released in March of 2015. In August of this year, The Marriage Opposites, Alice’s latest novel, was an immediate New York Times bestseller. “Hoffman is the prolific Boston-based magical realist, whose stories fittingly play to the notion that love—both romantic and platonic—represents a mystical meeting of perfectly paired souls,” said Vogue magazine. Click here to read more reviews for The Marriage of Opposites.

ARC Review of Gilded Cage

ARC Review of Gilded CageGilded Cage (Dark Gifts, #1) by Vic James
three-stars
Series: Dark Gifts, #1
Published by Del Rey Books on February 14th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:

Not all are free. Not all are equal. Not all will be saved.

Our world belongs to the Equals — aristocrats with magical gifts — and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.

A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.

Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?

A boy dreams of revolution.

Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.

And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.

He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?

My Review:

Vic James’ debut novel Gilded Cage is a novel that I’ve been looking forward to reading for months now.  The premise – that a form of slavery is alive and well in England and that the ruling class uses magic to keep this unfair, dehumanizing system in place – intrigued me from the moment I first read the book’s synopsis and so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.  Thanks so much to Netgalley, the publisher, and Vic James for providing me with an e-galley of Gilded Cage in exchange for my honest review.

So, what did I think of it?  Well, honestly, my thoughts about Gilded Cage are a bit all over the place.  There were definitely plenty of things I liked about the book, but that said, I also encountered a few problematic areas.

Let’s start with the good.

What I Liked:

Slavery vs. Rebellion:  I was intrigued by the class-based society where magic-wielding “Equals” ruled over a non-magical citizen body and where each member of the non-magical citizenry is required to submit to a decade-long period of servitude called ‘Slavedays.’  While serving a Slavedays term, an individual basically relinquishes all of his or her legal rights as a citizen and becomes a slave to the Equals until your ten years are up.  The concept of the Slavedays was quite fascinating because although the decade-long sentence of slave labor is mandatory, each citizen is able to choose when they serve their sentence. Some choose to serve fresh out of high school or college, while others choose to postpone it as long as they can. Families, if at all possible, are also allowed to serve their sentences together, and even if it’s not possible to keep all family members together, young children are required to be kept with a parent.

James’ readers get to see Slavedays up close and personal as we are introduced to some of the novel’s main characters, Luke and Abi Hadley, as they and their family members prepare to enter their Slavedays.  Older sister Abi has deferred her acceptance to medical school to go ahead and serve her sentence and, as part of her deal, has managed to secure her family a pretty decent gig serving out their Slavedays at Kyneston, a magnificent estate owned by one of the most prominent Equal families in England, the Jardines.  Compared to the alternative, a grungy, smog-filled industrial city called Millmoor, Kyneston sounds like a dream.  Things don’t go according to plan on the day they are supposed to depart for Kyneston, however, when what appears to be a clerical error separates Luke from the rest of the family and he is sent by himself to Millmoor.  We thus get to see both Millmoor and Kyneston as we follow both Luke and Abi on their very different journeys into Slavedays.

As expected, Millmoor is pretty much a nightmare filled with cruel supervisors, back-breaking labor, unhealthy food, and just an overall demoralizing atmosphere.  What I liked about seeing the inside of Millmoor though was that the reader is immediately presented with covert signs of rebellion.  I was so glad to see this because up until this point, I had been sitting here thinking “Why the heck are these citizens just voluntarily giving up ten years of their lives, selling off their homes and possessions, just because some uppity ruling class says that’s the way it is?”  It was great to see that some folks weren’t just lying down and taking it without offering any kind of resistance.  As Luke joins the resistance, we get to see more and more brazen acts of defiance and it’s pretty exciting to read and root for this band of underdogs that Luke has joined up with as they are clearly gearing up for a rebellion.

In contrast to the horrendous living and working conditions Luke and his fellow Millmoor inmates are  subjected to, Abi and her family are given fairly nice housing to live in at Kyneston, ample food to eat, and their workloads are quite manageable as well as respectable, especially considering they are serving the same kind of sentence Luke is.  Abi works as an administrative assistant to one of the Jardine brothers, her mother works as a nurse for an elderly family member, her father does maintenance work on vehicles on the property, and little sister Daisy is providing child care for Gavar Jardine’s daughter.  Apparently all Slaveday terms are not created equally.

Politics:  In addition to seeing that Slavedays is quite different depending on where you are assigned, we also get to see the flipside of things as we follow Abi and the rest of the family into the heart of Equal society and all of its political games.  I’m a bit of a political junkie anyway so I found the goings on within the Equals’ ruling body to be quite fascinating. There are apparently a lot of ambitious and ruthless people within the Equals. There are power plays to be Chancellor, a small but vocal faction who supports the abolition of Slavedays altogether, and all sorts of other exciting things at play as Parliament is in session.  If you’re into reading about politics and all of its behind-the-scenes machinations, there’s definitely a lot for you to enjoy in Gilded Cage.

Cloak and Dagger:  I also really liked how James kept me guessing as to what side many of the characters in Gilded Cage were even on.  It was never safe to assume any particular character was pro- or anti- slavery just based on their standing in society.  There were several jaw-dropping surprises throughout the novel as it became clear that the rebels weren’t necessarily who I thought they were.

What Didn’t Work for Me:

Too Many Points of View:  Where I’m somewhat conflicted about Gilded Cage has more to do with how the book is structured and the lack of explanation about certain key elements. First of all, there are so many points of view that without the book’s synopsis singling out three characters, I really had a hard time distinguishing who the main characters were supposed to be. You have the points of view of several members of each class –  Abi and Luke, who are regular citizens beginning their period of servitude, and then you have several points of view from those who are considered Equals, such as Silyen and Gavar Jardine, who are brothers in one of the most prominent Equal families. While it was definitely interesting to see the class dynamic and the rebellion from both sides, it just made for a confusing time trying to keep track of everyone and it also made it hard to really connect with any of the characters.

Why Are Characters Doing What They’re Doing?

Characters’ motivations also weren’t clear to me. Aside from the general wrongness is the idea of mandatory servitude, why is Luke so quick to jump on board with the rebellion? Even though we’re in his head seeing what he’s doing from his point of view, there is still no real explanation for why he starts participating. It’s basically just one minute he isn’t, the next he is.

There were similar instances with the Jardine brothers as well. Silyen is, by far, the most fascinating character in the book and all of his schemes are so intriguing. He almost appears to be playing both sides against the other, but it’s not entirely clear why he’s doing what he’s doing. Is he truly an abolitionist even though he’s an Equal? Is he trying to create chaos and disruption so as to stage a power play and overstep his older brother to become his family’s heir? I’m hoping all of this will be become clear in the next book because I definitely found Silyen to be the most interesting character in Gilded Cage.

Abi’s Inappropriate Flirtation:

So those who regularly follow my reviews know I’m not big on romances randomly being inserted into a storyline where it’s unnecessary.  To James’ credit, it does take a back seat to the rest of the action of the story but it’s still there so I have to comment – mainly because again, her motivations are unclear.  Abi works very closely with one of the Jardine sons and becomes attracted to him. First of all, it’s not appropriate since it would basically be a master-slave relationship. Second, she is supposed to be working diligently to try to get her brother out of Millmoor and back with them, so why is she sitting around letting herself get distracted by a cute boy?

I’m all about strong female characters so in this sense, Abi was kind of a letdown if she really is supposed to be one of the main characters. She does do something risky and heroic at the end of the novel though so I’m hopeful this means she will step up and be the strong character I want her to be as the series continues.

The Verdict:

All in all, I found Gilded Cage to be an entertaining if somewhat confusing read.  With a few of the kinks worked out regarding point of view and starting to explain why some of the characters are behaving as they are, it’s got the potential to be a great series.

Rating:  3 Stars

three-stars

About Vic James

Vic lives in London’s Notting Hill, but her life is more action-adventure than rom-com.

She studied History and English at Merton College, Oxford where Tolkien was once professor. Relocating to Rome, she completed her doctorate in the Vatican Secret Archives (they’re nothing like The Da Vinci Code), then spent five years living in Tokyo where she learned Japanese and worked as a journalist. She now writes full time.

Vic has scuba-dived on Easter Island, camped at Everest Base Camp, voyaged on one of the last mailboats to St Helena, hang-glided across Rio de Janeiro, and swum the Hellespont from Europe to Asia. But there’s little she loves more than lying in bed till midday with a good book and a supply of her favourite biscuits.

Re-ReadIt Challenge: Review of Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Re-ReadIt Challenge: Review of Invisible Man by Ralph EllisonInvisible Man by Ralph Ellison
four-stars
Published by Vintage on February 1st 1995
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 581
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:

First published in 1952 and immediately hailed as a masterpiece, Invisible Man is one of those rare novels that have changed the shape of American literature. For not only does Ralph Ellison’s nightmare journey across the racial divide tell unparalleled truths about the nature of bigotry and its effects on the minds of both victims and perpetrators, it gives us an entirely new model of what a novel can be.

As he journeys from the Deep South to the streets and basements of Harlem, from a horrifying “battle royal” where black men are reduced to fighting animals, to a Communist rally where they are elevated to the status of trophies, Ralph Ellison’s nameless protagonist ushers readers into a parallel universe that throws our own into harsh and even hilarious relief. Suspenseful and sardonic, narrated in a voice that takes in the symphonic range of the American language, black and white, Invisible Man is one of the most audacious and dazzling novels of our century.

My Review:

I chose to re-read Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man as my January entry for the ReReadIt Challenge hosted by Ashley at Inside My Minds.  I wanted to re-read this literary classic because I originally read it when I was a teenager and I don’t think I fully appreciated it on that first reading and so wanted to give it a second look.  I was also curious to see how relevant its themes still are today.  I’m glad I did choose to revisit Invisible Man because it truly stands the test of time as a literary classic and I actually believe its themes are more relevant than ever.

At its heart, Invisible Man is a powerful coming of age story.  An anonymous black man tells the story of his journey to adulthood as he tries to discover who he is and what his place is in an American society that makes no attempt to even hide its racist tendencies.  What kind of identity and sense of self-worth can he have in a society that refuses to see him and acknowledge that he does in fact, have any worth at all?

What I think makes Invisible Man such a powerful read is that the story is told in first person by the Invisible Man himself.  Seeing firsthand what he sees and experiences as he tries to make his own way in a society that is often hostile, at best confusing, and quite often filled with betrayal, really drives home the message of how dehumanizing life can be if those around you refuse to acknowledge that you are a human being and that you matter just as much as they do.

One vivid example that sticks out in my mind is when our unnamed narrator is a senior in high school and is chosen to give an important speech. Word gets out into the community about his oratory skills and about what a stellar student he is, and so he is invited to give his speech in front of an important group of white men in the community.  When he arrives, he is blindfolded and thrust into a ring with many other similarly blindfolded men where they are forced to fight each other like animals until the last one is standing.  This is of course pure sport for those white men who have organized this “entertainment” for themselves and completely humiliating and degrading for our young narrator.  It is especially heartbreaking seeing it from his perspective because he naively has no idea what they have in store for him, has come to the event all dressed up, and is diligently practicing his speech in his head right up until the moment he’s blindfolded and tossed into the fighting ring.  Afterwards, the white men excuse away their behavior by then allowing the narrator give his speech and then awarding him with a scholarship to an all black college.  What a painful and confusing message to give a young man!  “Here, we recognize that you are one of the best and brightest, but we we’re still going to go out of our way to put you in your place.”

We follow the narrator from his hometown and his university in the Deep South until he gets expelled from university.  His crime?  He was tasked with driving one of the school’s white trustees around while they were visiting the campus.  One of the places the trustee asked to visit turned out to be an unsavory part of town that sits right on the outskirts of the university.  According to the headmaster, our narrator irreparably damaged the school’s reputation and therefore had to leave.  The headmaster decides not to be completely heartless though and sends the narrator up north to Harlem, armed with a handful of sealed recommendation letters, to secure a job with someone connected to the university.  The narrator arrives in Harlem and starts dutifully dropping off the recommendation letters, determined to find a job as soon as possible because he is hoping to make the most of this opportunity for a fresh start since he can’t return to school.  The narrator’s bubble is quickly burst, however, when it is ultimately revealed to him that the letters he is handing out are not, in fact, recommendation letters at all, but instead, they are letters condemning him so as to sabotage his job searching efforts.

The rest of the novel tracks him as he continues to try to make his way in the world.  Every step of the way he encounters either hatred and bigotry or else people like the self-serving “Brotherhood” who recognize his oratory gift and want to use him to make speeches that advance their own causes. They promise they’re going to turn him into the next Frederick Douglass or W.E.B. DuBois, but then proceed to change the rules at every turn and use him as a scapegoat each time things don’t go according to plan.  Each experience only serves to strip away a little more of his innocence and his self-worth until he ultimately flees and turns to life underground, off the grid, which is where we find him when the story begins.

Invisible Man is not an easy read, by any stretch.  I won’t even classify it as entertaining because there’s nothing entertaining about racism and bigotry. I will classify this as an incredibly important read though because it gives a voice to those in society who have no voice. This is echoed in the final lines of the novel:  “Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak to you?”  The idea of giving voice to those who have no voice is just as relevant today as it was when Ellison wrote the book, especially when considered in light of the immigrant ban in the U.S.  It seems like more groups than ever are being made to feel invisible.

Note:  If you do read Invisible Man, I highly recommend reading it with the audible narration by Joe Morton from TV’s Scandal. I listened to this narration while I read and thought it really added a lot to the overall story.  Morton delivers a powerful reading that really highlights the nuances that might otherwise be missed – the initial innocence followed by increasing sarcasm and biting humor that develops as the narrator becomes further disillusioned with life.

 

Rating:  4 stars

four-stars

About Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison was a scholar and writer. He was born Ralph Waldo Ellison in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, named by his father after Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ellison was best known for his novel Invisible Man, which won the National Book Award in 1953. He also wrote Shadow and Act (1964), a collection of political, social and critical essays, and Going to the Territory (1986). For The New York Times , the best of these essays in addition to the novel put him “among the gods of America’s literary Parnassus.” A posthumous novel, Juneteenth, was published after being assembled from voluminous notes he left after his death.

Ellison died of Pancreatic Cancer on April 16, 1994. He was eighty-one years old.

Book Review: Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

Book Review:  Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer NivenHolding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven
four-stars
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on October 4th 2016
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 391
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  From the author of the New York Times bestseller All the Bright Places comes a heart-wrenching story about what it means to see someone—and love someone—for who they truly are.

Everyone thinks they know Libby Strout, the girl once dubbed “America’s Fattest Teen.” But no one’s taken the time to look past her weight to get to know who she really is. Following her mom’s death, she’s been picking up the pieces in the privacy of her home, dealing with her heartbroken father and her own grief. Now, Libby’s ready: for high school, for new friends, for love, and for EVERY POSSIBILITY LIFE HAS TO OFFER. In that moment, I know the part I want to play here at MVB High. I want to be the girl who can do anything.

Everyone thinks they know Jack Masselin, too. Yes, he’s got swagger, but he’s also mastered the impossible art of giving people what they want, of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a newly acquired secret: he can’t recognize faces. Even his own brothers are strangers to him. He’s the guy who can re-engineer and rebuild anything in new and bad-ass ways, but he can’t understand what’s going on with the inner workings of his brain. So he tells himself to play it cool: Be charming. Be hilarious. Don’t get too close to anyone.

Until he meets Libby. When the two get tangled up in a cruel high school game—which lands them in group counseling and community service—Libby and Jack are both pissed, and then surprised. Because the more time they spend together, the less alone they feel. . . . Because sometimes when you meet someone, it changes the world, theirs and yours.

Jennifer Niven delivers another poignant, exhilarating love story about finding that person who sees you for who you are—and seeing them right back.

My Review of Holding Up the Universe:

I read Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places last year.  It took me on such an emotional roller coaster ride and immediately became one of my all-time favorite reads.  Because my opinion of that book is so high, I was a little apprehensive going into Holding Up the Universe because surely there was no way this new book could begin to compete with All the Bright Places in terms of grabbing me by the heartstrings and not letting me go.  I’m happy to say, however, that my hesitation was completely unwarranted as Holding Up the Universe is every bit the emotionally poignant read for me that All the Bright Places was.  It made me laugh, cry, feel every emotion in between, and it also made me really examine how I view the people around me.  Am I really seeing them? Am I putting myself in their shoes and trying to imagine what they might be going through? I love when I can connect with a book on that kind of level and use it for self-reflection.

What I Loved about Holding Up the Universe:

Libby Strout:  When Libby Strout, one of the novel’s main characters, is just ten years old, her mother tragically and unexpectedly dies.  A grieving Libby feels understandably lost, sinks into depression, and ultimately turns to food as a way to comfort herself.  Her lifestyle unfortunately becomes unhealthy for so long that she actually ends up housebound and has to therefore be home-schooled. When Libby’s unhealthy lifestyle ultimately leads to a medical emergency, she literally has to be cut from her house by rescue workers.  This event of course ends up captured on video and goes viral on the internet, the end result being that Libby is dubbed “America’s Fattest Teen.”  The whole experience is a wake up call for Libby who begins to see a therapist in order to sort herself out and get back on the road to both physical and mental health. When we meet Libby, she has lost enough weight that she feels ready to rejoin the world and so is starting her first day of high school.

I fell in love with Libby immediately.  Hell, I didn’t just fall in love with Libby; I wanted to BE Libby because she is just such a rockstar.  She’s courageous, resilient, confident, has a wicked sense of humor, and just this all around kickass personality.  She knows exactly who she is and she totally OWNS it. Some of her classmates stare and, gawk at her and make juvenile mooing sounds at her when she walks by, but it is not her size that defines who Libby is, it’s her larger than life personality.  Libby is not a character that you feel sorry for because she is mocked by her classmates; Libby is a character that you live life to the fullest with and revel in her ‘coming out’, so to speak.  If anything, you end up feeling sorry for the losers who mock her because they are the ones missing out on a friendship with a truly remarkable young woman. I really loved that Jennifer Niven painted Libby in such a refreshing way instead of having her be someone that should be pitied throughout the story.

I think my absolute favorite Libby moment in this book is when she decides to try out for the school dance team.  The captain of the squad, Caroline Lushamp, has been snide and nasty to Libby ever since she came back to school.  Libby gives the audition of her life, because as Libby herself says, “the dance is in me.”  This girl has serious moves and her spirit is just so infectious that if you’re with her and she starts dancing, you won’t be able to stop yourself from joining in. When Libby finishes her audition, Caroline immediately starts in with her nasty questions.  She wants to know how much Libby weighs and would she be willing to lose over 200 pounds in order to be considered for the team.  Libby takes one look at her, says “Absolutely not”, leaves, and promptly starts her own school dance team.  Oh, to have had that kind of chutzpah when I was in high school!

Jack Masselin:  Jack is the other main character in Holding Up the Universe, and Jack has a secret – he has something called prosopagnosia and, because of it, he cannot recognize the faces of those around him, not even his friends and family.  He can literally be sitting there talking to someone and if they look away and then look right back at him, he doesn’t know who they are.  He has never been formally diagnosed, so not even his parents realize what is going on with him.  He has been hiding his condition since he was a child and has been somewhat successful keeping track of people by memorizing other identifiers about them.  But as he has gotten older, he has found himself in more and more awkward and embarrassing situations because of it – once accidently kissing the cousin of his girlfriend because he couldn’t tell the difference between the two girls, and then another time he accidentally flirted with a substitute teacher because he didn’t realize that she wasn’t a fellow student, and so on and so on.  His primary coping mechanism has been to develop a certain persona – he constantly plays it cool, tries to laugh the awkward moments off like he has done them intentionally, but ultimately he keeps people at a distance because it’s when they get too close that they start to realize that Jack isn’t as carefree and happy go lucky as he initially comes across.

I really liked Jack’s character because this secret that he is carrying around makes him so complex.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to never recognize the faces of those around me and then on top of that, trying to hide it from everyone around me.   In some ways Jack frustrated me because of this – I kept thinking ‘Oh my gosh, if you would just tell people, your life would be so much less complicated because people would understand why you do the things you do.’ But at the same time, I could totally understand wanting to not make yourself stand out if at all possible in a world where, as Libby Strout sees every day, some people can be jerks. When a stupid, insulting game called ‘Fat Girl Rodeo’ throws Libby and Jack together, an interesting and very complicated relationship begins to develop between them and Libby quickly begins to see through Jack’s carefully constructed (as he calls it) ‘Super Douche’ persona down to the real Jack, the one he lets no one see.

 I liked the contrast between these two characters.  Where Libby is all sass and brass, Jack, even with all his attempts at playing it cool, comes across as very vulnerable and in need of someone to basically save him from his own stubbornness about his condition. Libby to the rescue!

Seeing and Being Seen: The major theme of Holding Up the Universe is about seeing – it’s about not only seeing people for who they really are, but also about you yourself really being seen by those around you.  It’s about getting past those snap judgments that get made based solely on appearance or by one encounter.  I think Niven tackles this theme beautifully with both Libby and Jack.  After an initially bumpy start, Jack and Libby eventually come together and a beautiful friendship begins to develop.  Even though she actually punches Jack in the face the first time they encounter each other, as they both land in detention/after school therapy and are forced to spend quality time together, Libby quickly begins to see that Jack is not nearly the horrible person she initially thought he was.  And Jack, just as quickly, realizes that he feels more comfortable and more himself around Libby than he does around anyone else.  Once he realizes he can’t deny this connection he feels to Libby, he drops the doucheboy act and gets as real with her as she has been with him– even confessing the secret about his prosopagnosia to her.

Anything I didn’t like?

Overall I thought this was a fabulous read. I stayed up until well past midnight last night to finish it because I just had to see how it ended. I did have one small quibble with the events of the story though and that was when Jack states that he really could recognize Libby just because he loved her.  I’m probably just being nitpicky but it seems like if loving someone is enough to recognize and remember them, then shouldn’t he have been able to recognize and remember his family members?  I don’t know. I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around the logic here but it didn’t make me like the book any less than I otherwise would have.

Who Would I Recommend This Book to?

Because of its ultimate message that ‘You Are Wanted’ no matter who you are, what you look like, what size you are, etc., I’d recommend this book to anyone, and especially to anyone who needs to hear that message or who needs to realize the importance of putting oneself in the shoes of another and trying to understand what they may be going through: be a Libby Strout to those around you, don’t be Caroline Lushamp.

 

Rating:  4 stars

 

four-stars

About Jennifer Niven

New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Niven has always wanted to be a Charlie’s Angel, but her true passion is writing. Her most recent book, All the Bright Places, is her first novel for young adult readers and tells the story of a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die. All the Bright Places was the GoodReads Choice Award for Best Young Adult Fiction of 2015, and named a Best Book of the Year by Time Magazine, NPR, the Guardian, Publisher’s Weekly, YALSA, Barnes & Noble, BuzzFeed, the New York Public Library, and others. It was also the #1 Kids’ Indie Next Book for Winter ’14-’15 and SCIBA’s Young Adult Book of the Year, as well as being nominated for the Carnegie Medal and longlisted for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. As of today, the book has spent over thirty weeks as a New York Times bestseller, and foreign rights have sold to forty territories. The movie rights have been optioned with Elle Fanning attached to star and Jennifer writing the script. As a companion to the book, Jennifer has created Germ, a web magazine for and run by girls (and boys) — high school and beyond — that celebrates beginnings, futures, and all the amazing and agonizing moments in between.

With the publication of her first book, The Ice Master, Jennifer became a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writer. A nonfiction account of a deadly Arctic expedition, The Ice Master was released in November 2000 and named one of the top ten nonfiction books of the year by Entertainment Weekly, and translated into multiple languages, including German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Danish, and Icelandic. Jennifer and The Ice Master appeared in Newsweek, Entertainment Weekly, Talk, Glamour, The New Yorker, Outside, The New York Times Book Review, The London Daily Mail, The London Times, and Writer’s Digest, among others. Dateline BBC, the Discovery Channel, and the History Channel featured The Ice Master an hour-long documentaries, and the book was the subject of numerous German, Canadian, and British television documentaries. The Ice Master has been nominated for awards by the American Library Association and Book Sense, and received Italy’s esteemed Gambrinus Giuseppe Mazzotti Prize for 2002.

Jennifer’s second book, Ada Blackjack — an inspiring true story of the woman the press called “the female Robinson Crusoe” — has been translated into Chinese, French, and Estonian, was a Book Sense Top Ten Pick, and was named by The Wall Street Journal as one of the Top Five Arctic books.

Her memoir, The Aqua-Net Diaries: Big Hair, Big Dreams, Small Town, was published in February 2010 by Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, and was optioned by Warner Bros. as a television series.

Her first novel, Velva Jean Learns to Drive (based on her Emmy Award-winning film of the same name), was released July 2009 by Penguin/Plume. It was an Indie Pick for the August 2009 Indie Next List and was also a Costco Book of the Month. The second book in the Velva Jean series, Velva Jean Learns to Fly, was released by Penguin/Plume in August 2011, and the third book in the series, Becoming Clementine, was published in September 2012. The fourth Velva Jean novel, American Blonde, is available now.

With her mother, author Penelope Niven, Jennifer has conducted numerous seminars in writing and addressed audiences around the world. She lives in Los Angeles.

Source: www.jenniferniven.com

Book Review: The Girl Before by J. P. Delaney

Book Review:  The Girl Before by J. P. DelaneyThe Girl Before by J.P. Delaney
three-half-stars
Published by Ballantine Books on January 24th 2017
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:

Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life. The request seems odd, even intrusive—and for the two women who answer, the consequences are devastating.

Emma:  Reeling from a traumatic break-in, Emma wants a new place to live. But none of the apartments she sees are affordable or feel safe. Until One Folgate Street. The house is an architectural masterpiece: a minimalist design of pale stone, plate glass, and soaring ceilings. But there are rules. The enigmatic architect who designed the house retains full control: no books, no throw pillows, no photos or clutter or personal effects of any kind. The space is intended to transform its occupant—and it does.

Jane:  After a personal tragedy, Jane needs a fresh start. When she finds One Folgate Street she is instantly drawn to the space—and to its aloof but seductive creator. Moving in, Jane soon learns about the untimely death of the home’s previous tenant, a woman similar to Jane in age and appearance. As Jane tries to untangle truth from lies, she unwittingly follows the same patterns, makes the same choices, crosses paths with the same people, and experiences the same terror, as the girl before.

* * * * *

My Review: 

The Girl Before is the next big psychological thriller to come along that employs the same ingredients that have made other ‘Girl’ books like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train so immensely popular in recent years.  Central to The Girl Before’s plot are the now familiar concepts of the potentially unreliable narrator that keeps you guessing throughout the novel, supplemented by a cast of characters who aren’t especially likable, and a storyline filled with twists and turns and red herrings as the reader is kept guessing as to whether a tragic event is truly an accident or if it is the result of something more sinister.

What I Liked:

The Dual Narrative Perspective:  Even though I have some quibbles about a few other elements of The Girl Before, I did love how the story itself was presented.  It alternates between two women, Emma and Jane, who, 3 years apart, live in the same unusual residence, One Folgate Street. The story alternates between their points of view as they live in this house.  Both Emma and Jane learn that prior to their moving in to One Folgate Place, someone else has tragically died there.  Emma and Jane, in turn, each become obsessed with trying to piece together the circumstances of the deaths because there are so many unanswered questions and so much gossip surrounding each death. In many ways, Emma and Jane’s investigations parallel each other, and I LOVED this, mainly because it just built so much suspense into the story and added so many twists and turns as they follow the various leads they have managed to uncover.  It also had me practically screaming at both women because they seemed so hell bent on putting themselves in harm’s way just to satisfy a curiosity. It was maddening and yet so entertaining to read.

The Danger of Obsession:  This is a theme that runs throughout The Girl Before and it’s a powerful one.  Both Emma and Jane become obsessed with trying to solve these mysterious deaths, in spite of the fact that they may be putting themselves in harm’s way.

You might be asking yourself by this point ‘Why are these women both so hung up on these deaths? Don’t they have anything else more pressing to worry about?’ Well, the basic answer is that during their respective stays at One Folgate House, both Emma and Jane become romantically involved with Edward Monkford.  That probably wouldn’t be an issue in and of itself; however, in both deaths, Edward’s name came up as a possible suspect so each lady wanted to know what role, if any, their lover played in the deaths and if they themselves are now in danger because of another added twist:  Jane and Emma resemble each other, and both of them bear a striking resemblance to Edward’s dead wife.  The man clearly has a type and clearly wants that type living in his perfect house.  Edward is basically the embodiment of the ‘dangers of obsession’ theme.

One Folgate Street:  One Folgate Street is basically Edward Monkford’s pet project and he is extremely selective about who he allows to live in the residence.  The application process is rigorous and asks many probing personal questions, and if an applicant makes it through the initial screening process, which apparently very few do, they then still have to submit to an interview with Monkford before there’s any chance of approval.  The house itself comes pre-furnished, although minimally so, and if approved, you are allowed to bring very few things of your own with you, and you also must adhere to the over 200 restrictive covenants that Monkford has in place to mandate and facilitate the minimalist lifestyle he expects his residents to adhere to.  Eviction will result from the breaking any of those covenants, which include no pets, no children, and no books, among others (No books?  Seriously, what kind of freak doesn’t want any books in their house?!)

I personally couldn’t imagine even wanting to go through the application process to live in this house, much less wanting to live the way this guy demands, but I did find the idea fascinating for storytelling purposes because it got me curious as to the type of person who would want to live there as well as the type of person Monkford is clearly looking for to take part in his little experiment.

The house itself is no ordinary house and in some ways it functions as a character in the story as well.  It is always referred to by its name, One Folgate Street.  It has also been programmed to employ the use of smart technology in the form of a bracelet and some other diagnostics to recognize its inhabitants and basically perform for them accordingly.  If the resident steps into the shower, the water will turn on automatically at the preferred temperature, for example, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  The house often seems as though it has a mind of its own, which both Emma and Jane occasionally comment on.  Periodically throughout the residents’ stay there, the house will basically shut itself down until the resident takes an assessment test and answers more probing questions similar to those in the initial application. Once the test is completed, the resident may continue with life as usual.  Emma and Jane each at random times even mention that sometimes they feel like the house is punishing them, especially if they’ve been in a disagreement with Edward.  All of that technology in the house adds a creepy Big Brother element to the story.  Are they being watched? If so, by whom and why?

Anything I Didn’t Like?

The main thing that somewhat disappointed me about The Girl Before was that I didn’t particularly like any of the characters.  As those who follow my reviews know by this point, I really like to be able to connect with the characters I’m reading about and that just didn’t happen for me with Emma or Jane.  I just felt like I was only meant to passively observe them in this odd, minimalist habitat rather than truly connect with them in any meaningful way.  Maybe that was the author’s intent because of the nature of the story, but that aspect of it didn’t quite work for me.

Speaking of the characters, I also didn’t like the potentially unreliable narrator angle.  Not because it wasn’t well done, but just because I’ve seen it in so many books lately.  When it started making an appearance here, I actually groaned and said ‘No, not you too. You were doing so well without that.’ I think I’ve just read too many books in this genre in recent years and so what might be a fresh idea for some readers has become a stale one for me.

Who Would I Recommend This Book to?

I’d say if you’re a big fan of books like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train or are completely new to the psychological thriller genre, you’ll probably love this.  I’ve heard that it’s already slated to be made into a movie with Ron Howard directing, so I’ll be curious to see how the movie compares to the book.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion.

Rating:  3.5 stars

three-half-stars

About J.P. Delaney

The Girl Before is the first psychological thriller from JP Delaney, a pseudonym for a writer who has previously written bestselling fiction under other names. It is being published in thirty-five countries. A film version is being brought to the screen by Academy Award–winning director Ron Howard.

Book Review: A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. Schwab

Book Review:  A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. SchwabA Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic, #2) by V.E. Schwab, Victoria Schwab
five-stars
Series: Shades of Magic #2
Published by Tor Books on February 23rd 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 509
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  It has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Prince Rhy was wounded, and since the nefarious Dane twins of White London fell, and four months since the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift–back into Black London.

Now, restless after having given up his smuggling habit, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks as she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games–an extravagant international competition of magic meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries–a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.

And while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night will reappear in the morning. But the balance of magic is ever perilous, and for one city to flourish, another London must fall.

My Review:

What an incredible read! I could seriously kick myself for waiting so long to pick it up, especially considering how much I loved A Darker Shade of Magic, the first book in the series.

A Gathering of Shadows picks up about four months after A Darker Shade of Magic and what I really loved about it was how character driven the entire book is.  Of course it has an incredibly entertaining plot as well, with the Element Games tournament as well as a darker subplot which follows a character we thought we had left behind in the first book, but even with those storylines at play, what drives this book and makes it such a fabulous read are the psychological journeys of these characters and how much we get inside of their heads as they each deal with the fallout from the events of the first book.  The struggle of each of our favorite characters is palpable in A Gathering of Shadows as they are each desperately trying to figure out who they even are anymore because everything has changed for each of them.

What I Loved:

The Bond between Kell and Rhy:  The fallout from Kell binding his life to Rhy’s to save him in the first book really permeates through everything that takes place in A Gathering of Shadows.  Kell doesn’t regret saving Rhy for a single moment, but he is also miserable because he can’t live like he normally would for fear of harming Rhy in the process. In the early chapters, Schwab paints him almost as a restless tiger pacing in a cage.  He longs for action and adventure but is terrified of harming his brother in the process.  As we learn right away, this magical bond between Kell and Rhy is so strong that if Kell takes a punch, for example, Rhy can actually feel the pain as if it’s happening to him as well. Kell is also miserable because he can feel that the King and Queen, his “parents”, no longer trust him because of what happened in the first book.  Rhy, in his own way, is equally miserable because he knows the sacrifice Kell has made for him and he hates it because he can literally sense how trapped and miserable Kell feels.  Schwab has so vividly described this bond between the brothers that I just felt so horrible for both of them but also really appreciated that these two men, even though they are not brothers in blood, would truly sacrifice anything and everything for the other.

Speaking of Rhy, I also loved that we got to see so much more of him in this book.  His father is grooming him to take on more of a leadership role and so has him hosting the Element Games.  As much as I adored Rhy as the fun brother who often served to lighten the mood in A Darker Shade of Magic as he bantered with Kell, I loved seeing this more mature and responsible side of him as he represents  his country.

Delilah Bard: There’s no way I can talk about what I loved about this book without mentioning Lila.  I didn’t think it was possible to love her more than I did in the first book, but she really blew me away in this one and has become one of my favorite female characters of all time.  I actually found myself chuckling at her antics quite a bit in the opening chapters as we see that she has, in fact, realized her dream of becoming a pirate.  Lila has earned her spot on Alucard Emery’s privateer by proving — in typical Lila style – that she is the best thief around.  On a bet with a couple of Alucard’s crewmen, she actually scams her way aboard a rival pirate ship and then promptly attacks and takes it over.  I love that she’s such a badass and that she does whatever she needs to do in order to survive, even if it’s a bit morally questionable.  She has always been a survivor and a risk taker and in this book, she takes that to a whole new level as we learn that she has somehow managed to start mastering the elements of magic, which by most accounts, she should not have been able to do.  In many ways Lila is shocked at her own magical abilities and so she has somewhat of an identity crisis. Who or what am I and why can I do all of these things that I shouldn’t be able to do?  She spends much of the novel testing the limits of her abilities, including, securing by somewhat shady means, a position for herself as a competitor in the Element Games.

Alucard Emery:  What a fun new addition to the series Alucard Emery is.  Alucard is the captain of the ship Lila has ensconced herself on and the two of them have bonded tremendously as they’ve traveled the seas together.  Alucard is also quite the charmer. His banter, both with Lila and then later with Rhy, who it turns out he has a bit of history with (to Kell’s dismay), is just so much fun to read.  In many ways he becomes the mood lightener that Rhy was in A Darker Shade of Magic.

The Element Games (or Essen Tasch):  Just wow! In some ways this magical tournament reminded me of the Triwizard Tournament from the Harry Potter series – with its magicians visiting from two other countries to participate.  Rather than quests for each of the competitors, however, the Essen Tasch is more about using magic in combat.  Schwab does a magnificent job of bringing this tournament to life – each match is so vividly described that I felt like I was right there watching earth, air, fire, and water springing to life as commanded by each magician.  I also loved how meticulous Schwab is about developing the rules, disqualifiers, and other minute details of this tournament such as the costumes, masks, and props.  No details were left to chance and the whole tournament felt that much more authentic because of her efforts.  It was incredibly entertaining to read!

That Cliffhanger Ending!  OMG! I don’t want to give anything away here, but let’s just say that that dark subplot that has been lurking throughout the novel finally rears its ugly head at the conclusion of A Gathering of Shadows. I have to applaud Schwab’s ability to craft a masterful cliffhanger that has me desperately wanting to get my hands on the next book to make sure my favorite characters are going to be okay.

Anything I Didn’t Like?

That I don’t already have the third book in my hands because of that insane cliffhanger?! No, seriously, I cannot express how much I LOVED this book.  As annoyed as I am at myself for putting off reading it for as long as I did, in a way I’m grateful because now I only have to wait about a month for A Conjuring of Light.  I think I would have lost my mind if I had read this months and months ago and had such a long wait.

Who Would I Recommend A Gathering of Shadows to?

I would recommend this to anyone and everyone.  If you’re looking to get into the fantasy genre for the first time, I think this series is a fantastic place to start.  The world building is just so vivid but also relatable since it’s grounded in London, a city that is so familiar to most of us.  The characters are badass and yet also charming and fun and sometimes vulnerable.  Seriously, if you don’t fall in love with Kell, Lila, and Rhy, I’d be very shocked.  I’d also highly recommend this series to readers like me who tend to be somewhat cynical when it comes to romances.  So far this series has done a marvelous job of just hinting at potential relationships without having it take over the rest of the plot.  It’s very well-balanced in that sense, and so it earns extra high marks from me.

 

Rating:  5 Stars

 

 

five-stars

About V.E. Schwab

ve schwab

Victoria is the product of a British mother, a Beverly Hills father, and a southern upbringing. Because of this, she has been known to say “tom-ah-toes,” “like,” and “y’all.”

She also tells stories.

She loves fairy tales, and folklore, and stories that make her wonder if the world is really as it seems.