Book Review – A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2) by V.E. Schwab

Blogland.

How do I even start? What can I say about this book that I didn’t already say about the first one? Oh, this is a good opportunity for you to read that review before you go on with this one, by the way. It’ll prepare you for all the squealing ahead.

Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars

a gathering of shadows

Kell and Lila are back and getting into all kinds of trouble again. Lila’s settled in nicely to life at sea, but becoming part of a crew comes with emotional ties she’s not sure she wants, or can even handle. The charming captain, Alucard Emery, has become her particular friend, and that’s something she’s really not familiar with. Friends.

Meanwhile, back in Red London, Kell’s dealing with the fallout of his mistakes in the first book. The King and Queen have stopped calling him son, have stopped treating him like family and have more or less grounded him. He cannot go anywhere without a pair of guards watching over him. And Rhy’s suffering a similar fate. After his (near) death at the hands of Astrid Dane he’s also got a pair of guards, but it’s the new connection between himself and Kell that has them both feeling claustrophobic.

They can feel each other’s heartbeats, their emotions, even feel one another’s pain. And with both of the Princes agitated and cooped up, they make some… questionable choices. For instance, the country is hosting the Essen Tasch (Element Games), the Arnes equivalent of Magical Olympics. And Rhy is in charge of planning and hosting the event, so naturally, he goads Kell into donning a disguise and competing. Illegally.

Alucard is also entered in the games, so his ship returns to London, and Lila Bard gets a very bad idea. She picks a competitor not so different in build than her, kidnaps him, and takes his place in the competition. Because, oh yeah, Lila’s been working on her magic, and she ain’t half bad.

Meanwhile, in White London, something dangerous is growing. A new threat, that wants nothing more than to spread between worlds in its desire for more.

What I loved:

  • MORE KELL AND LILA!!!!! I love these dummies. I love all their hangups and their trauma and their smiles. I don’t know what else I can say except I love them very much and would read about them until I die.
  • Rhy gets POV chapters!!!! The prince get a lot more screen time in this book, and he becomes much more developed because of it.Image result for castlevania alucard gif
  • Alucard mother-effin’ Emery. I did not need yet another character to love, but Schwab doesn’t care. She gave me Alucard anyway. He’s a jerk, but a very lovable one. Think the “Lovable Rogue” trope and you’ll picture Alucard. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll picture Adrian “Alucard” Tepes from Castlevania and love him even more. Also, Kell hates him and anytime they’re in scene together I cackle.
  • The pace is slower, which I actually enjoyed. It made the building tension slow but in a teasing sort of way. Just when I’d get comfortable with the shenanigans of the Essen Tasch, the narrative would check in with White London and remind me of all the looming bad news. Plus, the slower pace allowed for a ton of character interactions which led to me screaming and squealing and laughing way too much.
  • The narration! Michael Kramer, who does an awesome job narrating most of Brandon Sanderson’s books, narrates Kell’s chapters, and his wife Kate Reading narrates Lila’s. They do a phenomenal job. I can’t imagine anyone reading for them again.

What I didn’t love:

  • The King and Queen. They’re the real dummies in this book, even if I get where they were coming from. Half of the stuff in this book wouldn’t have happened if they had just loved Kell instead of bear a grudge toward him. But, it was believable that they’d treat him with distrust after everything he did.
  • That there is a SIX MONTH wait for this audiobooks and the next through the library’s digital collection. I absolutely cannot wait that long, so I’m reading the last book instead of listening.

Image result for crying gifI can’t think of anything else I didn’t like. I loved this book, almost as much as the first one. I think, the stakes felt lower in this book, but by the end they definitely were not. I cried. Not that it takes much to make me cry, but man, Kell’s last few chapters of this book are… tough.

I’ve inhaled this series, staying up late to read, finding any excuse to listen to the books, like folding laundry and doing dishes. I haven’t been this utterly enchanted by a series in a very long time, and I’m already lamenting the end. I can tell the book hangover on this series is going to be baaaaaaaad.

I’m off on another hike this weekend and the writing is going very well already this week, so don’t expect to hear from me until Monday. You know the drill.

Until then, Bloggarts.

 

BZ

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Book Review – A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1) by V.E. Schwab

Bloggos! Bloggo bloggo bloggos!

I tucked this book away on my TBR what seems like forever ago and I wasted so. much. time! Thank goodness(?) for that migraine*, else I may have never prioritized it, and would have totally missed out on a new favorite.

*Not really. Migraines are the literal worst and I would not wish them on anyone. They are debilitating and awful and if you get them I am with you and we should get help, ASAP. There are no upsides to migraines, no matter how hard I try to tell myself otherwise.

My Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars

Image result for a darker shade of magic

This book. You guys. I loved everything about it. I loved the characters, the world(s), the magic(s), the freaking plot! There’s a rivalmance! (For non-fanfic folks, that means rivals become romantic interests over the course of the story).

I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Steven Crossley, while I was down and out with a really bad migraine. This book made me laugh and smile when I was otherwise trying not to cry or even worse, puke. This book made a really painful couple of days manageable, or at the very least helped me get through them.

What I loved:

  • Every single character. There’s Kell, a powerful and rare type of magician called the Antari, who is far more dashing than he realizes and I am madly in love with him. Lila, a starving cut-purse who steals from Kell, and inadvertently stumbles into a really dangerous adventure with him. I love Rhy, the suave Prince and Kell’s brother by all but blood. I even liked Holland, the Antari from an alternate tyrannical London, who spends much of his time as the book’s bad guy, even if it’s against his will. His king and queen, the twins Astrid and Athos, are absolutely terrifying and I LOVED it. They were creepy in all the best ways and presented a very real and original threat.
  • The worlds. The book takes place across three different Londons. Grey London, where Lila is from, where magic has dwindled away to almost nothing; AKA our London, pre-industrial revolution. Then there’s Red London, Kell’s London, where magic is in balance with the world and almost everyone has some sort of talent. And then there’s White London, Holland’s London, where everything is cold and dying, where life is a constant power struggle and nothing comes easy. And of course, the fallen Black London, consumed by a magical plague 300 years ago, and not really in this book.
  • The magic! There’s basic elemental magic that most folks have some ability with at least one. There’s Water, Fire, Air, Earth, Metal, and Bone. Some people can wield two or even three of the Elements, but anything more than that is exceedingly rare. Unless you’re an Antari. They can bend all the Elements to their will, AND use Blood Magic, which actually has verbal commands and requires the Antari activate the command with their blood. White London also has some tricky Runes and Seals, but those are illegal in Red London because they bind people against their will, etc.a darker shade of magic audio cover

So yeah, there’s a lot going on in this book and I enjoyed all of it. Like, literally every second. I already intend to read the books over again once I’m done with the series (and manage to find time to sneak in a reread), because I love them that much.

What I didn’t love:

  • Um… the narration? It definitely wasn’t bad, but it was kind of stuffy. Kell sounded too bored, or too impersonal a lot of the time and his magic commands were super dramatic, to the point I couldn’t really understand what he was saying. I liked Crossley’s interpretations of Lila, however. The bad guys had either German or Eastern European accents which felt a little… cliched.
  • That I couldn’t get the second book on the Libby app right away (the hold list is an estimated SIX MONTHS!) so I had to sign up for Audible, again.
  • That I waited so long to try this series! What was I thinking! Why didn’t someone tell me!

Okay, seriously now, all frothing aside, this book obviously ticked every box for me. I have a theory as to why. It felt like fanfic and I mean that in the best possible way. It was FUN. It hit the beats of fanfic, where there’s banter and intrigue and while Schwab does it so skillfully you don’t even notice, she melds all these cutesy moments into the book and makes them matter. Things were predictable, but in a satisfying way. Characters said and did things I wanted them to, and when they did? It was better than I imagined.a darker shade of magic alternate

Perfect. This book was perfect for me, and probably perfect for me at this point in my life. It was the exact book I needed and wanted. It’s been a long time since I had a new favorite series, and I forgot how intoxicating that feeling is. I am currently over the moon with feelings for this series. So, yeah, this is my fangirly, foaming at the mouth review. Whatever that’s worth to you.

Expect more of the same this month because my queued reading is insane! I’m already halfway through A Gathering of Shadows, I’ve started Trail of Lightning, and behind those is A Conjuring of Light and Kameron Hurley’s The Light Brigade. It’s going to be a book review heavy month here at the blog and it’s about damn time.

Barring any news submissions-wise, you won’t hear from me until Monday, when I’m back with the weekly update. Until then, Blogland.

 

BZ

Book Review -The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

Blogland,

I have a lot of feelings about this book, not all of them good. It took me a lot longer to get through than I expected and it was quite a bit of an uphill climb for about two thirds of the book. With that in mind, this review will have a different format than usual, simply because I really hate writing negative reviews and want to do my best to tell you what does work, in addition to what didn’t work for me.

My Goodreads Rating: 2/5 Stars

city in the middle of the night

First, the good. What worked, what I did like, and why.

  • Anders is a really great writer. Her prose is powerful, eloquent, and compelling. I didn’t find any lines where I stumbled or balked, but was frequently pleased with the lines I read, with their straightforward poetry and spartan beauty. I have no qualms with her writing, and plan to read more of her writing.
  • The world-building is high quality. Gradual, but without holding your hand. The book expects you to pay attention, but doesn’t punish you with an unduly steep learning curve. However, despite the title and the amount of time spent in the various cities on the book’s planet, I would not say that setting is the driving component of the book. It’s done well and with a subtle hand, but it is not the focus.
  • Tone. Anders wields atmospheric tension extremely well. There’s a consistent feeling of dread that steadily builds through the whole book, even in moments of relative peace.

So, what didn’t work? Prepare yourself for a bit of a rant and some mild spoilers.

The characters. This is written as a character driven novel with four major characters, all of whom are written as if you’re supposed to like them. Except… none of them are all that likable. Some of them are downright loathsome.

Now, I realize that’s a highly subjective statement. Characters I find interesting, likable, or relatable may leave you cold and disinterested. So take my comments with a grain of salt.

The main character is Sophie. Her story is told in the first person and she is a very meek, naive, and loving girl. So of course, she gets utterly used by Bianca who she supposedly loves.

Bianca is the worst and I hate her.

Mouth is the second “main” character, with a 3rd person narrative, and the only character I really liked in the whole book. But she gets treated like complete garbage by all the other characters, even Alyssa who seems to be her longtime girlfriend.

That was another gripe I had with the book. These four women all appear to be in committed lesbian relationships, but none of that is ever actually said. I assumed that Sophie’s expressions of love for Bianca were obviously romantic (they lay together spooning, Sophie tells Bianca that she loves her, that she’s loved in her arms… to me these are not platonic expressions or actions), but by the end of the book, when a memory exposes Sophie’s romantic feelings, Bianca freaks out and calls her perverted? What? What did you think was happening this whole time?

Image result for the city in the middle of the night cover
UK cover

And Mouth and Alyssa treat each other like crap the whole book, which is a trope I really don’t like. It’s so frequent in stories that members of long term relationships talk to each other with no respect because they’ve known each other for so long that it’s okay. It’s a personal pet peeve that I can’t stand, and even Anders shines a light on how bad their interactions were with Mouth’s persistent self-doubt and longing to leave her trauma behind her, as Alyssa suggests. As if it should be so simple.

So… Yeah. I had some problems with these characters. Their interactions and development (or lack thereof) made for a very bleak book. I read on, continuing to believe that by the end there would be some turn, some blossom of hope, but it never came. Instead, it just sort of ended without any real resolution, which makes me think there might be a sequel.

I don’t think I’ll be back for that.

My other criticism is the plot. It meanders, which jives with the whole atmospheric prose thing, and I should have expected it thanks to the blurb on the cover lauding Anders as “this generation’s Le Guin”.

(This is the part where I confess that I have yet to be able to finish one of Le Guin’s books… As a PNW SFF writer, I have just admitted an unforgivable sin. Sorry ’bout it.)

Image result for le gasp gif
The horror!

So, ultimately, maybe I’m not the best reader for this book. I tried really hard to like it. I refused to give up on it. I held on, determined to give The City in the Middle of the Night a fair shake. That’s all I can do.

According to Goodreads, this book seems pretty divisive. People love it, or people really don’t and apparently I’m in the latter camp.

I’ll be back later this week with a review for A Darker Shade of Magic, and I just started Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse today, so my reading is picking back up. Hooray!

Until then Bloggos,

 

BZ

Reading Round Up – March 2019

Blogland,

March was another weird month for reading, which is making me think 2019 might just be a weird year for reading. Normally there’d be a lot more book reviews by now and a much higher number on my Goodreads tracker. I don’t think I’ve ever started the year this far behind! But, where there’s a will and all that…

Title: The Black God’s Drumsblack god's drums
Author: P. Djèlí Clark
Format: Paperback Novella
My Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars
Thoughts: This is a wildly inventive book with an amazing narration that demanded my attention. In just over 100 pages, there’s an incredible amount of world building and character development. I loved everything about this story and will be on the lookout for more stories from Djèlí Clark.
Recommend: YES! This was an amazing little standalone story, perfect for an afternoon of riveting escapism.

Title: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fearbig magic
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Elizabeth Gilbert
My Goodreads Rating: 3/5 Stars
Thoughts: I think there are definitely some gems in this book, but they require some digging and I wasn’t fond of what they’re buried in. Gilbert is the author of Eat, Pray, Love so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me that she’s a little mystical in her thoughts and processes. I… am not. So, take that with a grain of salt.
Recommend: Eh. If you’ve got nothing better going on and want to read someone’s very specific thoughts and feelings on the creative process, why not?

Title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Societyguernsey
Author: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Format: Hardback
My Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars
Thoughts: A fun and surprisingly light read for a book that centers around the aftermath of World War II. I watched the Netflix movie adaptation and loved it, and while the book was just different enough they are very similar. I would even say the movie is better, which I almost never say. For more thoughts, check out my review here.
Recommend: Sure! It’s a sweet read, perfect for vacation or any low-priority reading.

Title: Red Rising: The Sons of Aressons of ares
Author: Pierce Brown and Rik Hoskin
Format: Graphic Novel
My Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars
Thoughts: Bloody and gory and brutal in all the best Red Rising ways. I was never a big fan of Fitchner’s, although I changed my tune a bit toward the end of the series. But, I do love Sevro, and this is as much his origin story as it is the Sons of Ares’.
Recommend: Yep, as long as you’ve at least read the original Red Rising Trilogy, otherwise this is allllll kinds of spoiler-y.

Now that I’m back to just the one job my reading should be back to its speedy-self. I’m starting with Charlie Jane Anders’ The City in the Middle of the Night, hope to finish Putting the Science in Fiction after that, and then start Trail of Lightning. You see? I’m booked!

I’ll be back on Monday with the usual Goals Summary. Until then, Bloggos!

 

BZ

Book Review – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Hey Blogland,

As promised, I’m back and ready to talk about this book. Bear with me though because I am super sleepy and wiped out after an almost 2 hour Walk ‘n’ Talk with Madhu.

My Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars

guernsey

In an unusual turn of events, I became aware of this book after my husband suggested we watch the Netflix adaptation for Valentine’s Day. This was strange for two reasons. One, I watched a movie. I’m really not a big movie person and have to be cajoled to sit for longer than 30-minute intervals. I just don’t have the attention span for most films. Two, I watched a movie knowing it had been adapted from a book I HAD NOT READ. I am eternally vetoing Trevor’s movie suggestions because “I want to read the book first”. But this time he plied me with steak (NY Strip cooked to perfection) and baked potatoes and salad.  I was too hungry to argue, and I have to admit, the trailer had me intrigued.

Well, I liked the film so much that I immediately put the book on hold at the library, and took it with me on our trip to Cincinnati. I figured it would be the perfect vacation read. Entertaining, fluffy (Fanfic speak for zero drama, pure domestic bliss), and since I already knew the plot, easy to put down when it came time to adventure in a new place.

Turns out, there was enough the movie left out to keep me hungrily flipping pages as I read letter after letter from a wide and lovable cast. Guernsey is entirely Epistolary, which was really fun to read. I think the last Epistolary novel I read was Frankenstein in college, and it was a bit more labor-intensive than this. I do think the book actually

dawsey gif
I mean, look at him.

benefited from my having watched the movie, because I already knew and could see all of these characters as I read their letters. Particularly Sidney and Isola. Well, and Dawsey of course.

 

But, you’ll notice that the book only got 4 stars. And here’s why:

I don’t think the book would have been half so successful if I hadn’t seen the movie first. I think it would have been a bit boring. And I didn’t like that Markham turned out to be a bit of a jerk after all, when in the film he wasn’t. I didn’t like the fact that Juliet felt jealous of a freaking HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR because she thought Dawsey liked her. And even though Juliet acknowledged how messed up that was, it still felt gross.

I think the book was all right, but that the Netflix movie took what was there and vastly improved on it. I just wish the whole storyline about Isola’s Grandma and Oscar Wilde had made into the film. Though, I understand why it didn’t, since it literally served no purpose other than to be entertaining.

So, yeah. A fun read, worth an afternoon or two if you want a story that makes you smile and lets you turn your brain off for a bit. If you’d rather reserve your reading time for more challenging or thought-provoking things, I’d say just watch the movie. Which I never, ever say.

guernsey

I could go on forever about the movie. It’s become an instant favorite, and hit a lot of the same beats as the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice (which I adore). Apparently I’m a sucker for a quality period romance, particularly if it’s a slow burn. They’re both movies that thrive on subtlety, where glances and small touches convey more than the dialogue and I CANNOT GET ENOUGH.

And, it turns out, all of that is super hard to convey in a series of letters. Maybe that’s why the book fell a little flat for me.

 

See y’all on Monday.

 

BZ

Book Review – Lies Sleeping (Rivers of London #7) by Ben Aaronovitch

Blogland,

I’ve had a really great and productive weekend, and just finally made time to sit down and write this review. I’m also watching N.K. Jemisin play Mass Effect 3 on Twitch right now, so I’m a little distracted. But, man, what a time to be alive!

On to the review!

Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars

lies sleeping

Lies Sleeping is the long awaited seventh novel in the Rivers of London series. If you’re not caught up, you should probably stop reading now. No. Seriously. SPOILERS AHOY. If you are caught up, but could use a refresher, I have posted reviews of all of the previous six novels and you can find links to them in my 2018 What I’m Reading list.

But, for real. There’s no going back after this. Are you sure you wish to proceed?

…..
…..

…..
…..

All right. If you’re sure…

At the end of The Hanging Tree the Faceless Man was identified as one Martin Chorley, overall rich white dude with an obsession with Tolkien and, oh. Right. Magically splicing people with animals, murdering several individuals, and even accidentally having a hand in his own daughter’s death. Dude’s as bad an egg as can be. And he’s got Lesley on his side.

The plan this time? Summon Mr. Punch, kill him, and take his power à la Highlander in order to become a god. Honestly? That sounds about right for the Faceless Man. Not like he ever had small ambitions.

mr punch
as if this face isn’t terrifying enough, I’ve also read these books. Punch and Judy is forever ruined.

In this newest book, things seem to come full circle. Mr. Punch gets what’s his. Bev, Guleed, Nightingale, and even Molly all have some plot points either established or resolved, and Peter kinda sorta saves the day.

Well, actually, he cocks everything up trying to do the moral thing and Lesley saves(?) the day while simultaneously getting Peter in deep shit at the Met. She takes off with an ominous, “Don’t try to follow me,” and Peter’s left to clean up the mess of Martin Chorley. Literally.

The book is a blast. A little slow to start, but there are a lot of pieces to weave together and not so many pages to do it in. There’s also a lot of hints at where the series may go from here, with little tidbits about what some of the side characters might get up to in the coming books. I even cried at one point, because something really wonderful happens to Molly and I was legitimately overjoyed for her.

My only gripe is the ending, which I don’t want to get into in too much detail. And it’s not the ending necessarily, but what Aaronovitch decides to make of that ending in whatever story comes next. He’s set himself up for some wicked trope potholes, and I hope he’s able to navigate them in twisted and interesting ways.

But I’m afraid he won’t. He hasn’t fallen into any of them yet, so I’m not sure why I’m so worried, but I am. Time will tell how he handles this new development in the series.

However, as a book in a series, Lies Sleeping was quite, quite good. A fast read with the expected witty dialogue and great character development and setting. Yet again, I felt like I’ve known London my whole life, instead of only having visited for three days when I was fifteen. In just under 300 pages almost every side character known in the series had a moment in the spotlight, which was a bit busy, but still welcome. I love these characters.

I hope there are many Rivers of London books to come, and we at least know that Aaronovitch is working on another novella in the Rivers of London series, The October Man. In the meantime, I’m reading The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark right now, and likely to finish it tonight or tomorrow. Since it’s a novella, look for my thoughts on it in the March Reading Round Up.

I’ll be back tomorrow to talk about goals and such, and the have the February Reading Round up posted later in the week. Then we’re on vacation!

Talk soon, Bloggarts!

 

BZ

Book Review – Traitor’s Blade (Greatcoats #1) by Sebastien de Castell

I didn’t plan on reading this book this year. I got it for free on Audible months ago, almost as an afterthought. It was a moment of, “I have an extra credit, what the hell do I get?” Browse, browse, browse… “Ooooooh! I keep meaning to read that!”

Well, courtesy of a powerfully nauseating migraine on Monday and Tuesday, I finally listened to it. Yep, all thirteen hours in two days. Mainly because I was confined to my bed thanks to unabating queasiness, but also because I enjoyed it that much.

Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars

traitor

This story is strongly reminiscent of The Three Musketeers, but less the book and more the Disney adaptation. You know, the one with Oliver Platt as Porthos, but if it had an R rating. Actually, now that I think about it, can I get that remake? Please?Image result for porthos gif oliver platt

But, really, there are a lot of similarities here. Falcio val Mond, the disgraced First Cantor of the now disbanded Greatcoats, has seen worse days. Though, by any accounts, failing to prevent the murder of the man you’re supposed to be guarding is hardly a good day. Especially when he hasn’t paid you yet. That’s how the former Greatcoats, the dead King’s judiciary force, start this adventure: on the run from a murder they didn’t commit.

Kest and Brasti follow Falcio because, well, honestly, what else would they do? The whole country hates the Greatcoats, has branded them traitors, so they might as well stick with their best friend and eke out a living. But that all changes as they rush to escape the city and take a job guarding the first caravan that would take them. And like any good story, the Greatcoats flee one sort of trouble only to tumble into trouble of another kind. Namely, foiling the plot of the evil and greedy Duchies to unite the kingdom under a false monarch.

What really impressed me about this book was the relationship between Falcio, Kest, and Brasti. They are brothers, well and truly. They care for one another, they tease each other, and they fight with and for one another. Their dynamic was everything to me as I listened to this book.

It didn’t hurt that the plot and world-building were pretty great too.

So, why not five stars? Well, I figured out the big twist really quick. Like, before it was even actually hinted at. But, the narrator (Falcio) kept on not realizing it until the very last chapter of the book. He’s supposed to be smart y’all, and he couldn’t figure it out, while everyone else around him (myself included) did.

That loses a star at minimum. Thank goodness I liked the characters, setting, and the narrator so much! This is the part where I mention how wonderful Joe Jameson’s narration was and how sad I am to have to read physical copies of the rest of the series, since the library doesn’t own the audiobooks. He’s apparently quite the prolific narrator, so I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for other projects of his.

Image result for falcio val mond

I’m just now tucking into the next book, Knight’s Shadow, but hopefully I can make good progress on it. I’m sure it won’t take too long, but with the holidays expect an early 2019 review on this one.

I’ll be back on Christmas Eve with the usually Goals Summary!

Until then, Bloggos,

 

BZ