Showing posts with label four birdcages. Show all posts
Showing posts with label four birdcages. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Review: In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire

38244358. sy475 Title: In an Absent Dream
Series: Wayward Children #4
Author: Seanan McGuire
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; Hardcover
More Details: Fantasy
Publisher/Publication Date:; January 8, 2019

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
This fourth entry and prequel tells the story of Lundy, a very serious young girl who would rather study and dream than become a respectable housewife and live up to the expectations of the world around her. As well she should. When she finds a doorway to a world founded on logic and reason, riddles and lies, she thinks she's found her paradise. Alas, everything costs at the goblin market, and when her time there is drawing to a close, she makes the kind of bargain that never plays out well...
Lundy was a character who I always thought of as interesting, even though she only appeared in Every Heart A Doorway. I liked what I saw of her character. So it was nice to get a story from her perspective. In the same vein as Down Among the Sticks and Bones, In an Absent Dream is a prequel story. It told Lundy’s backstory including her adventure behind the door that opened for her: in a world called the Goblin Market. The story was big on being “sure” about many things, with wanting to live in whatever fantasy world that wanted you being one of them—which is a question that most of the characters of the Wayward Children series are eventually asked. It was also about following the rules as well as the consequences of breaking them. The Goblin Market—which is a pretty accurate descriptor for the kind of place Lundy went—was a market, and it was a land ruled by fair value. So even in the Goblin Market there were still rules. It was also uniquely different from some of the other worlds visited in prior books—not just in terms of the landscape and the permanent residents—but for how people, like Lundy, who went there could go back several times before being "sure" had lasting effects. I also liked all the characters who were introduced in In an Absent Dream. They were as interesting as the world they inhabited. All of it made for an entertaining story.

All in all, I enjoyed In an Absent Dream. It satisfied my curiosity about Lundy’s character and the Goblin Market. Now more than ever, I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Review: A Dream So Dark by L.L. McKinney

42642065Title: A Dream So Dark
Series: The Nightmare-Verse #2
Author: L.L. McKinney
Source/Format: Borrowed from the Library; Hardcover
More Details: Fantasy; Young Adult; Retelling
Publisher/Publication Date: Imprint; September 24, 2019

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
Still reeling from her recent battle (and grounded until she graduates), Alice must abandon her friends to complete her mission: find The Heart and prevent the Red Lady's rise. But the deeper she ventures into Wonderland, the more topsy-turvy everything becomes. It’s not until she’s at her wits end that she realizes—Wonderland is trying to save her. There’s a new player on the board; a poet capable of using Nightmares to not only influence the living but raise the dead. This Poet is looking to claim the Black Queen’s power—and Alice's budding abilities—as their own. Dreams have never been so dark in Wonderland, and if there is any hope of defeating this mystery poet’s magic, Alice must confront the worst in herself, in the people she loves, and in the very nature of fear itself.
The thing with sequels is they can go either way, good, bad, and anything in between. In the case of A Dream So Dark, it was the kind of sequel that got me excited for the next book in the series. I enjoyed it more than I did A Blade So Black. It was the kind of Alice in Wonderland retelling I’ve been looking for. I mean there was everything from a little bit of a mystery to interesting characters, Sailor Moon references, lots of scenes in McKinney’s version of Wonderland, plenty of action, and some pretty entertaining twists. That is to say, A Dream So Dark was worth the read.

From here on out, there may be minor spoilers for the first book. You have been warned.

The story picked up pretty much after the end of the first book, and it followed Alice as she dealt with the fallout of her most recent battle and about what happened to her friend, Chess. In a general sense, I liked the overall story. There was plenty of action to keep me turning the pages. And while I could guess some of what would likely happen, I didn’t know the full story—like the motivation behind the antagonists plots, and how it would all come together and playout in the end. So, I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish.

The setting was much more developed, and I liked that more of the story took place in Wonderland. It was such an interesting and colorful place, and I liked getting to see more of it—especially the people, the towns, the different kinds of creatures, and so on.

I loved the character development that happened in A Dream So Dark. At the end of A Blade So Black, I had a lot of questions about Alice’s character—and I still have a number of them—but I liked the direction the author took with her character. This time around, Alice was definitely more prepared. She had learned from her past mistakes, and she was ready for a fight. I thought it was great. Another thing I was a fan of was how much more present Alice’s family was. Like there was always the issue of her absences and her mother not being a fan of it or her lies, at all. So there were these really great scenes between her and her mother. There were also scenes with her grandmother as well (who, by the way, was an absolute delight and one of my favorite additions to the story; she’s a character that I want to see more of). I also liked Alice’s friend, Courtney (also known as Court). She was such a personality. She had some pretty entertaining one-liners, and I loved all the scenes she was in. There was also a little more about Addison Hatta’s history, which I liked.

All in all, I really enjoyed A Dream So Dark. It was a great addition to the series, and I’m looking forward to the next book.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

248596Title: Something Wicked This Way Comes
Series: n/a
Author: Ray Bradbury
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; hardback
More Details: Fantasy  
Publisher/Publication Date: First published in 1962

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
A carnival rolls in sometime after the midnight hour on a chill Midwestern October eve, ushering in Halloween a week before its time. A calliope's shrill siren song beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two inquisitive boys standing precariously on the brink of adulthood will soon discover the secret of the satanic raree-show's smoke, mazes, and mirrors, as they learn all too well the heavy cost of wishes - and the stuff of nightmare.
Something Wicked This Way Comes is one of those classic books that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. I wanted to read it before the year was over, and now I can mark it off my TBR list. Something Wicked This Way Comes was good. I liked the story and the characters, especially the friendship between Jim and Will. While it wasn’t exactly a ghost story like Dead Voices by Katherine Arden, it did deal with powerful and mysterious forces, as well as the consequences of what someone would do to remain young forever. There was the carnival, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show, so there were some scenes where the characters interacted with the rides and games. However, there was never a moment when there wasn’t something odd about the newcomers to the town, like the carnival and the way it arrived in the middle of the night. As the very first page of Something Wicked This Way Comes says, “One year Halloween came on October 24, three hours after midnight.” It led to the increasingly dangerous and nefarious situations that seemed to touch every corner of the story. I liked what I read. So Something Wicked This Way Comes was the perfect October read.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Review: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

38886181. sy475 Title: Neverwhere
Series: n/a
Author: Neil Gaiman
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; hardcover
More Details: Fantasy
Publisher/Publication Date: BBC Books; September 16, 1996

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
Under the streets of London there's a place most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, knights in armour and pale girls in black velvet. This is the city of the people who have fallen between the cracks. Richard Mayhew, a young businessman, is going to find out more than enough about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his workday existence and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and utterly bizarre. And a strange destiny awaits him down here, beneath his native city: Neverwhere....
Neverwhere is one of those books I kept saying I was going to read, but I never got around to it until now. The story was an excellent blend of a time period thoroughly entrenched in a modern time and fantasy elements. It was urban, gritty, and magical all at the same time. And it reminded me a little of Narnia and Alice in Wonderland. Although, it wasn’t a world at the back of a wardrobe, or an odd place following its own rules—or lack of rules—found at the bottom of a hole. No, Neverwhere was set in a place that was closer than anyone would have expected. It was another London, or as it was called in the story, London Below. There was so much I enjoyed about Neverwhere. I guess it was just my kind of story.

Richard Mayhew was a protagonist who, at first, lived a safe and comfortable life. He was a young businessman, and he was in a stable relationship with Jessica, his fiancée. That all changed when he met Door by chance one day. As the synopsis states “there are people who fall through the cracks,” and Richard does indeed become one of them. And when his good deed backfired on him, it was interesting how he handled himself now that his life was irrevocably changed for the worse. I liked the characters in Neverwhere. I don’t want to say too much about the secondary characters, but I have to at least mention Door. Door was a delightful character, and my only regret is that the rest of her family didn’t have a chance to appear on page. Door’s specific ability—a trait known to her family—was one of my favorite aspects about her character.

London Below was such a fascinating place to read about. Like Wonderland, London Below was a mysterious place that followed its own rules. There was a way of life down there, an order to things. So all manner of people and animals and monsters and angels—places seemingly outside of time or reality—existed right below the streets of London. I’m not going to lie, it was kind of awesome.

The story was great and atmospheric. There was action, and there was always a sense of danger to the situations the characters ended up in and the places they went. There was an element of cat-and-mouse to the story: a chase that spanned from the beginning to the end. Speaking of the end, it was open-ended in a way, but I was still satisfied with the conclusion of the story.

So far, Neverwhere is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. And here I thought Coraline would be hard to beat as my favorite book by Gaiman, but I was wrong.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Review: The Unkindest Tide by Seanan McGuire

43233639Title: The Unkindest Tide
Series: October Daye #13
Author: Seanan McGuire
Source/Format: Publisher; Bound ARC
More Details: Urban Fantasy
Publisher/Publication Date: DAW Books; September 3, 2019

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
Hundreds of years ago, the Selkies made a deal with the sea witch: they would have the sea for as long as she allowed it, and when the time came, she would call in all their debts at once. Many people assumed that day would never come. Those people were wrong. When the Luidaeg—October "Toby" Daye's oldest and most dangerous ally—tells her the time has come for the Selkies to fulfill their side of the bargain, and that Toby must be a part of the process, Toby can't refuse. Literally. The Selkies aren't the only ones in debt to the Luidaeg, and Toby has to pay what she owes like anyone else. They will travel to the fabled Duchy of Ships and call a convocation of the Selkies, telling them to come and meet the Luidaeg's price...or face the consequences. Of course, nothing is that simple. When Dianda Lorden's brother appears to arrest Dianda for treason against the Undersea, when a Selkie woman is stripped of her skin and then murdered, when everything is falling apart, that's when Toby will have to answer the real question of the hour. Is she going to sink? Or is she going to swim?
I took The Unkindest Tides with me while I had jury duty, and suffice it to say, the story kept me thoroughly entertained during breaks. It’s not the first book I’ve read by Seanan McGuire, but it is the only one I’ve gotten around to reading from the October Daye series. Even though it was the 13th book, I read it anyway—partially because I had no time to get to the other 12 novels in the series before the start of my jury duty. Regardless, I had no trouble following the story, getting invested in the characters, or interested in the world. I loved the story, and it’s probably my favorite book I’ve read by McGuire to date.

The synopsis tells a lot about the book, and the story pretty much delivered on every front. The story starts calmly, but it takes off when the Luidaeg arrived and announced that she intended to collect on debts owed to her. There was mystery, action, and a cast of wonderful characters. The world McGuire has created is probably one of my favorite urban fantasy takes on the fae. It was often a strange and interesting world, particularly with how the everyday side you and I would know met with the magical side. One location that was of interest to me was the Duchy of Ships, which is where the book primarily took place. It was such a creative place to set a story, and I thoroughly like all the details about it from the politics to the architecture, and even some of what local life was like for the people who lived there. Also, I like that there were unique characteristics to each kind of fae and the magic present in the story.

Generally speaking, I liked all of the main characters. October Daye was interesting enough, and I liked the relationship she had with Tybalt. They clashed over certain subjects, but I was a fan of the way they talked it out with one another. The Luidaeg was another one of my favorite characters from the story. Her history and that of her children was long and tragic, and I understood why she would want to be “Cousin Annie” as an escape.

I don’t know everything there is to know about the series, and I probably missed a few references to previous books, but overall The Unkindest Tide was a great story. I enjoyed reading it and look forward to diving into the previous books in the series and other novels by Seanan McGuire. Have you read any books from the October Daye series? If so, are you planning to read The Unkindest Tide?

Disclaimer: this copy of the book was provided by the publisher for this review, thank you!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

ARC Review: Well Met by Jen DeLuca

43189874Title: Well Met
Series: n/a
Author: Jen DeLuca 
Source/Format: First to Read; eARC
More Details: Contemporary; romance
Publisher/Publication Date: Berkley; September 3, 2019

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
All's faire in love and war for two sworn enemies who indulge in a harmless flirtation in a laugh-out-loud rom-com from debut author Jen DeLuca. 
Emily knew there would be strings attached when she relocated to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, for the summer to help her sister recover from an accident, but who could anticipate getting roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance Faire alongside her teenaged niece? Or that the irritating and inscrutable schoolteacher in charge of the volunteers would be so annoying that she finds it impossible to stop thinking about him? The faire is Simon's family legacy and from the start he makes clear he doesn't have time for Emily's lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the faire grounds he becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she's in her revealing wench's costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they're portraying? This summer was only ever supposed to be a pit stop on the way to somewhere else for Emily, but soon she can't seem to shake the fantasy of establishing something more with Simon or a permanent home of her own in Willow Creek....
I was here for the renaissance fair and stayed for the characters and romance. However, there was a lot more to like about Well Met than that. Everything from the writing, characters, story, and of course the romantic elements were done so well. At times, there were even hints of a will-they-won’t they kind of situation. So, I have to say, Well Met by Jen DeLuca is probably one of the most interesting, fun, and charming romance novels I’ve read in a while.

Well Met was a quick read, and the story was pretty straight forward. It was easy to get into and also the kind of book that kept me turning the pages, because I was so invested that I needed to know what happened next.

I liked the main character, Emily, especially after she was roped into volunteering at the annual renaissance faire in Willow Creek. I liked Emily’s emotional journey from beginning to end. She had issues to work through, and I liked the progress she made. Toward the beginning of the novel she was stuck in her past. While she was a good aunt and sister, she had a tendency to willingly put others before and above herself. So, I knew she would have to work on that before she could open up to anyone else, value herself, and move on with her life. I also liked Emily’s family—her older sister, April, and her niece Caitlin. I loved the bond between the three of them, especially Emily and Caitlin. She was very much the cool aunt kind of character, and I thought it was great that she was willing to do the faire so Caitlin wouldn’t miss out on the opportunity. There was a whole host of other side characters—including Simon—and they were as interesting as Emily. I liked the bits of backstory and glimpses of their usual lives outside of the faire.

I also liked the romantic relationship. Since the novel takes place toward the end of the school year and over a summer, I liked how gradual the relationship felt as it developed. The banter was a whole lot of fun since the characters often did so while using their faire personas. Speaking of which, one aspect that stood out was the renaissance faire. That’s a good thing, because it was such a large part of the story. The renaissance faire worked very well as a setting for the romance to take place. It was such a unique thing to do, and I enjoyed reading about how the faire came together: the auditions, rehearsals, costumes, and even during the summer when the event was going on.

Overall, Well Met was great. If you’re a fan of romance novels with a unique spin, then I would recommend giving this book a try. As for me, I’ll be over here waiting for Jen DeLuca’s next novel.   

About the author....

Jen DeLuca was born and raised near Richmond, Virginia, but now lives in Central Florida with her husband and a houseful of rescue pets. She loves latte-flavored lattes, Hokies football, and the Oxford comma. Well Met is her first novel, inspired by her time volunteering as a pub wench with her local Renaissance Faire.

Disclaimer: this copy of the book was provided by First to Read for this review, thank you!

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Review: Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

23129410. sy475 Title: Welcome to Night Vale
Series: Welcome to Night Vale #1
Author: Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor 
Source/Format: borrowed from the library; Hardcover
More Details: Fantasy 
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Perennial, October 20, 2015

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
From the creators of the wildly popular Welcome to Night Vale podcast comes an imaginative mystery of appearances and disappearances that is also a poignant look at the ways in which we all struggle to find matter where we live. 
Located in a nameless desert somewhere in the great American Southwest, Night Vale is a small town where ghosts, angels, aliens, and government conspiracies are all commonplace parts of everyday life. It is here that the lives of two women, with two mysteries, will converge. 
Nineteen-year-old Night Vale pawn shop owner Jackie Fierro is given a paper marked "King City" by a mysterious man in a tan jacket holding a deer skin suitcase. Everything about him and his paper unsettles her, especially the fact that she can't seem to get the paper to leave her hand, and that no one who meets this man can remember anything about him. Jackie is determined to uncover the mystery of King City and the man in the tan jacket before she herself unravels. Night Vale PTA treasurer Diane Crayton's son, Josh, is moody and also a shape shifter. And lately Diane's started to see her son's father everywhere she goes, looking the same as the day he left years earlier, when they were both teenagers. Josh, looking different every time Diane sees him, shows a stronger and stronger interest in his estranged father, leading to a disaster Diane can see coming, even as she is helpless to prevent it. Diane's search to reconnect with her son and Jackie's search for her former routine life collide as they find themselves coming back to two words: "King City". It is King City that holds the key to both of their mysteries, and their futures...if they can ever find it.
After reading It Devours!, I decided to go back to the first book in the series, Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel. I was immediately intrigue by the synopsis, and I was ready to be back in Night Vale from the perspective of a different character. This time, the story is told from the perspective of Jackie Fierro (the local pawnshop owner), and Diane Crayton, Josh’s mother. Both of them are reoccurring characters in the series, and it was great to have a story from their perspective. And what a story it was!

The mystery of the book revolved around something as seemingly innocuous as simple slips of paper. However, considering that this was Night Vale, it was quickly apparent that simple and innocuous weren’t the right words to use about the situation. The papers were being delivered to people by a “man in a tan jacket holding a deerskin suitcase,” and they only said one thing: King City. I liked the overall story. The mystery was interesting and there were enough twists to keep me turning the pages.

The novel also showed the characters in their daily lives, including at their jobs. In Diane’s case, it also highlighted her personal life: she was a single mother who worked hard to raise her son, Josh. While Josh spent a lot of time wanting to know who his father was, which caused some friction between the two. Even so, I liked the bond between Diane and Josh. Individually, they were great characters, but I enjoyed reading the scenes when they were together. Jackie and her routines were also interesting. I enjoyed reading about how she ran the pawnshop (plus the rules for pawning an item), as well as how being nineteen for seemingly forever/decades/however long began to weigh on her as the story progressed.

At its heart, Welcome to Night Vale is a story about mothers and their children. It was also about Night Vale's ways and the odd way time flows—or doesn’t flow—and how it affects the relationships between others. Night Vale is a strange place: it’s a town fraught with danger where even going to the library is a perilous adventure in and of itself. And it was interesting to see the town from the perspective of parents who’ve raised their children there.

Overall, I enjoyed Welcome to Night Vale. It was a great story. Now more than ever, I’m excited for the third book in the series.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Review: It Devours! by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

28208687. sy475 Title: It Devours 
Series: Welcome to Night Vale #2
Author: Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; Hardback
More Details: Fantasy
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Collins; October 17, 2017

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
From the authors of the New York Times bestselling novel Welcome to Night Vale and the creators of the #1 international podcast of the same name, comes a mystery exploring the intersections of faith and science, the growing relationship between two young people who want desperately to trust each other, and the terrifying, toothy power of the Smiling God. 
Nilanjana Sikdar is an outsider to the town of Night Vale. Working for Carlos, the town’s top scientist, she relies on fact and logic as her guiding principles. But all of that is put into question when Carlos gives her a special assignment investigating a mysterious rumbling in the desert wasteland outside of town. This investigation leads her to the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God, and to Darryl, one of its most committed members. Caught between her beliefs in the ultimate power of science and her growing attraction to Darryl, she begins to suspect the Congregation is planning a ritual that could threaten the lives of everyone in town. Nilanjana and Darryl must search for common ground between their very different world views as they are faced with the Congregation’s darkest and most terrible secret

“Not everyone believes in mountains, yet there they are, in plain sight.”

I’ve listened to the Welcome to Night Vale podcast on and off over the years, and I don’t know why I put off reading the novels for so long. I enjoyed It Devours!. It’s just like an episode of the podcast. There were a number of familiar faces—like Cecil Palmer, Carlos, and others. And while It Devours! is a book (with some illustrations, but it isn’t mixed-media; no interviews or transcripts, etc.), it’s told in a similar tone as the podcast that makes the weirder aspects of the town seem like normal, everyday occurrences—which for Night Vale it is. However, that’s part of Welcome to Night Vale’s charm, and I’m glad It Devours! captured some of that.

This book was something else. From the very first page, it starts out by saying not everyone believes in mountains, which is a pretty accurate example of the kind of logic that exists in Night Vale. Time behaved oddly. There were helicopters that didn’t run on fuel. And there’s even a house that’s there, but everyone says it doesn’t exist anyway. What’s causing the massive holes that are steadily devouring Night Vale? Who is Darryl? What is the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God? Those are just some of the questions that needed to be answered, and how they were eventually explained was what I liked most about the book. As such, the mystery was great. I was drawn into the story from the very first chapter, and the villains were sufficiently creepy—yet unassuming at times—with the means and motivation to do what they did.

The majority of the story is told from the perspective of Nilanjana Sikdar. She has a job at Carlos’s lab, and most of her acquaintances are from said establishment. She’s competent in situations when she needs to be, and despite all that happens, she returns to habits from her daily life whenever she needs to solve something. Nilanjana pretty much embodied the feeling of moving to a new place, feeling like you don’t belong, and trying to find out where you fit anyway. I liked the moments when she began to accept Night Vale for the way it was, as well as how she navigated the situation with the mysterious holes.

I truly enjoyed It Devours!. I don’t think the series has to be read in order, especially if you’ve already listened to the podcast. That being said, I’m definitely going to read the first book in the series, Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

ARC Review: Magic For Liars by Sarah Gailey

41555947Title: Magic For Liars
Series: n/a
Author: Sarah Gailey
Source/Format: Bookish First; bound ARC
More Details: Fantasy; Mystery
Publisher/Publication Date: Tor Books; June 4, 2019

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
Sharp, mainstream fantasy meets compelling thrills of investigative noir in this fantasy debut by rising star Sarah Gailey... 
Ivy Gamble has never wanted to be magic. She is perfectly happy with her life—she has an almost-sustainable career as a private investigator, and an empty apartment, and a slight drinking problem. It's a great life and she doesn't wish she was like her estranged sister, the magically gifted professor Tabitha. But when Ivy is hired to investigate the gruesome murder of a faculty member at Tabitha’s private academy, the stalwart detective starts to lose herself in the case, the life she could have had, and the answer to the mystery that seems just out of her reach...
Prior to reading Magic For Liars, I’d heard a lot of good things about Sarah Gailey’s other published work. I hadn't read them, but I was very excited to dive into this book anyway. Magic For Liars is a whodunit style murder mystery set primarily at Osthorne Academy, a boarding school for mages. From the start, it had a promising premise. And while parts of the story tended to be a little more predictable than others, that didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the book.

I liked the writing and pace of the story, as well as the setting. Right away, the prologue introduced the mystery. At first, it seemed like there weren’t any suspects, because the victim was well-liked by students and faculty. However, nothing was as it seemed. And despite Ivy’s idolization of places like Osthorne, they still had as many problems as any other school. She seemed to learn that lesson the hard way, and at times I was waiting for her to let go of her lies—the ones she was beginning to buy into—and focus on the case. As I mentioned above, I was able to kind of guess who the culprit would likely be, just not the motivation behind their actions. So, it wasn’t an issue, because there was so much I generally enjoyed about the book. Also, I was still invested enough in the story to wait around for the big reveal to happen.

Magic was such a big theme in the story. Some of it was kind of whatever goes. However the more academic side with rules and limitations was actually interesting to read about.

Ivy Gamble is a private investigator, and for the most part I liked her characterization. Even though she was solving other people’s issues, she had her own share of problems that—toward the beginning of the book—went largely unaddressed. She drank, resented her sister, was bitter about the magic she didn’t have, and thought about herself in a manner that I could often describe as self-deprecating. Many of her cases involved cheating spouses among other things. So, I could understand her enthusiasm and trepidation about being handed what she considered to be a big and important case that was unlike other’s she’d handled before. The other characters were interesting as well. None of them were perfect. A lot of them had secrets and quirks—like Tabitha Gamble, Mrs. Webb, and others. However, it’s what made them distinctive and memorable. I didn’t even mind the romance subplot.

Magic For Liars was an interesting blend of magic and mystery, and if you’re a fan of that, then I would say give this one a try. I wish there was a sequel, because I would have liked to see more from these characters. Overall, I look forward to reading another book by Sarah Gailey....

About the author...
Permission is granted to freely use either of these photographs for promotional or press purposes so long as they are credited ©   Allan Amato    2019.Hugo award winner Sarah Gailey lives and works in Los Angeles, California. Their nonfiction has been published by Mashable and the Boston Globe, and their fiction has been published internationally. They are a regular contributor for and Barnes & Noble. You can find links to their work at They tweet@gaileyfrey.
(Photo credit: ©Allan Amato 2019) 

Disclaimer: This copy of the book was provided by Bookish First and Tor Books for this review, thank you!

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Review: Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor

34386617Title: Binti: The Night Masquerade 
Series: Binti #3
Author: Nnedi Okorafor
Source/Format: Borrowed from the Library; Paperback
More Details: SFF
Publisher/Publication Date:; January 16, 2018

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
The concluding part of the highly-acclaimed science fiction trilogy that began with Nnedi Okorafor's Hugo- and Nebula Award-winning BINTI....
Binti has returned to her home planet, believing that the violence of the Meduse has been left behind. Unfortunately, although her people are peaceful on the whole, the same cannot be said for the Khoush, who fan the flames of their ancient rivalry with the Meduse. Far from her village when the conflicts start, Binti hurries home, but anger and resentment has already claimed the lives of many close to her. Once again it is up to Binti, and her intriguing new friend Mwinyi, to intervene--though the elders of her people do not entirely trust her motives--and try to prevent a war that could wipe out her people, once and for all....
Before I get started, I wanted to clarify that while I try to be as vague as possible, this review may contain some minor spoilers for the first two novellas of the series. You’ve been warned.

After the cliffhanger end of Binti: Home, I was excited to dive back into this world and these characters in the finale novella of the trilogy, Binti: The Night Masquerade. For the most part, this novella answered the lingering questions I had—about how Binti’s story would end as well as the mystery of her “edan”. The ending was kind of open-ended in a way, but it still brought about the resolution of some of the personal and external conflicts that have plagued Binti since the first novella. Change is hard. Monumental and life altering changes are even harder, and Binti had to come to terms with the ways the events of the trilogy have affected her.

I liked the progression of the story. The politics from the previous novellas were back, and with the treaty in place, I could see how Binti could believe the conflict had settled. However, the rivalry between Khoush and the Meduse restarted and with deadly and destructive consequences. There was danger, but I liked how Binti remained true to her ways even in the face of overwhelming odds. Parts of the story were emotionally impactful but all too fleeting, because I was able to guess what would happen next. So, some parts of the story were a little predictable, and other scenes leaned a little into the territory of being a deus ex machina. I also won’t say too much about how the mystery of Binti’s “edan” was solved, but I have to admit that it made me laugh—not because it was funny, but instead it was just so…random that I couldn’t help but see it in a more humorous light.

The aliens—and even Oomza University—were all creative and unique, and I really loved those aspects of the story. And I know I keep mentioning the ship, Third Fish, but it was one of my favorite characters in this one, along with its baby: New Fish. So, when I say the technology in this trilogy is one of my favorite aspects because of its creativity, I really do mean that.

While there were a few “meh” aspects about The Night Masquerade, it was still a fitting end to Binti’s story. As a whole, the Binti trilogy was worth the read, and I look forward to reading more novels by Nnedi Okorafor….

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Review: Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor

30038654Title: Binti: Home
Series: Binti #2
Author: Nnedi Okorafor
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; paperback
More Details: SFF
Publisher/Publication Date:; January 31, 2017

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
It’s been a year since Binti and Okwu enrolled at Oomza University. A year since Binti was declared a hero for uniting two warring planets. A year since she abandoned her family in the dawn of a new day. And now she must return home to her people, with her friend Okwu by her side, to face her family and face her elders. But Okwu will be the first of his race to set foot on Earth in over a hundred years, and the first ever to come in peace. After generations of conflict can human and Meduse ever learn to truly live in harmony?
I liked Binti: Home more than I did the previous novella in the series. It felt like more of a complete story. A lot of the things I questioned about the first novella were addressed here including if there was any lingering animosity between the Meduse and the Khoush, and how Binti’s friendship with Okwu would affect her time as a student at Oomza University. The first novella was really about one girl traveling from home, whereas in Binti: Home it focused on her journey of traveling back to earth after feeling that it was time to face not only her family but the elders within her community as well. And that was one of the strongest aspects about the novella.

The story picks up a year after the end of the previous novella. Binti is attending the university, but her life is no easier. She has no friends other than Okwu, but seems to enjoy her studies. I also liked the direction that the author took with the character. Okorafor included the fact that Binti experienced nightmares and panic attacks, which necessitated her having to attend therapy. I liked the inclusion of this detail, because it addressed the direct ramifications of everything the character had been through in the first novella. The focus of the trilogy has always been Binti, and she went through a lot. It was a trial both figuratively and literally with themes of self-discovery, and confronting misconceptions and prejudices that have been taught. This is why the progression of Binti’s character was one of my favorite aspects about the story.

There were new characters introduced here, and I liked them well enough. And as was true with the first novella, I liked the technology here. There was also the return of the ship from the first book, Third Fish. (Listen, I just like this ship okay.) Also, the environments described throughout the story were as cool and innovative as the societies sustained by them.

So, Binti: Home was great. The ending was quite a cliffhanger with the fate of a lot of key characters in Binti’s life virtually unknown. Luckily, I had the foresight to check out Binti: The Night Masquerade from the library at the same time as Binti: Home. So I know what my next read will be....

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Heart by Stephanie Burgis

37534756Title: The Girl with the Dragon Heart
Series: Tales from the Chocolate Heart #2
Author: Stephanie Burgis
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; Hardcover
More Details: Middle Grade; Fantasy 
Publisher/Publication Date: Bloomsbury Children's Books; November 6, 2018

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Synopsis from Goodreads...

Once upon a time, in a beautiful city famous for chocolate and protected by dragons, there was a girl so fearless that she dared to try to tell the greatest story of all: the truth. Silke has always been good at spinning the truth and storytelling. So good that just years after arriving as a penniless orphan, she has found her way up to working for the most splendid chocolate makers in the city (oh, and becoming best friends with a dragon). Now her gift for weaving words has caught the eye of the royal family, who want to use her as a spy when the mysterious and dangerous fairy royal family announce they will visit the city. But Silke has her own dark, secret reasons for not trusting these visitors. Can Silke find out the truth about the fairies while keeping her own secrets hidden?

Picking up sometime after the end of The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart, the sequel focused on Silke—a friend of Aventurine and promotional handbill writer for The Chocolate Heart—and what happens after she accepts a job offered by the crown princess of the kingdom: spying on the royals of Elfenwald. Long held secrets come to light and exciting twists lead to a story full of magic, dragons, and of course chocolate. So, The Girl with the Dragon Heart was as wonderful as I thought it would be. Burgis created unique and interesting characters, and many familiar faces returned for another adventure. The setting seemed to come alive with descriptions about the architecture, daily life experienced by the characters, and even details about some of the inner-workings of the palace as well as places outside Drachenburg. An aspect of the book worth noting was the friendship between Silke and Aventurine. The dynamics were great. Through thick and thin, they looked out for each other even when Aventurine, who is a dragon, didn’t think she needed any help. The royals of Elfenwald were interesting. I liked Burgis’s portrayal of fairies. They were regal, but also quite disconcerting at times. Plus, their reasons for visiting Drachenburg were suspect from the beginning, and when they finally made a direct appearance on page, they made Silke’s mission anything but easy.

Overall, The Girl with the Dragon Heart was a quick read and excellent sequel to The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart. I look forward to reading more books by Stephanie Burgis....

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Review: The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi

34942741Title: The Consuming Fire
Series: The Interdependency  #2
Author: John Scalzi
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; Hardcover
More Details: Science Fiction; Space Opera
Publisher/Publication Date: Tor Books; October 16, 2018

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
The Interdependency, humanity’s interstellar empire, is on the verge of collapse. The Flow, the extra-dimensional conduit that makes travel between the stars possible, is disappearing, leaving entire star systems stranded. When it goes, human civilization may go with it—unless desperate measures can be taken. Emperox Grayland II, the leader of the Interdependency, is ready to take those measures to help ensure the survival of billions. But nothing is ever that easy. Arrayed before her are those who believe the collapse of the Flow is a myth—or at the very least, an opportunity that can allow them to ascend to power. While Grayland prepares for disaster, others are preparing for a civil war, a war that will take place in the halls of power, the markets of business and the altars of worship as much as it will take place between spaceships and battlefields. The Emperox and her allies are smart and resourceful, but then so are her enemies. Nothing about this power struggle will be simple or easy... and all of humanity will be caught in its widening gyre....
So, The Consuming Fire picked up where The Collapsing Empire left off with the collapse of the Flow being an imminent threat to even the Interdependency itself. This was one sequel that lived up to my expectations, and answered some of the questions I had about the Flow, the Interdependency, and where the story would go after the revelations at the end of The Collapsing Empire.

Where do you go when easy and far-reaching space travel is on the verge of going away? What can you do when the forces of nature are actively working against you? The situation presented an interesting conundrum, and the characters—all across the board—reacted differently; sometimes for the greater good, or for wholly self-serving reasons. There was Grayland II who wanted to do what was best for the people of the Interdependency. Yet, there were others who were in it for selfish reasons, wanting to believe the collapse is—as the synopsis states—just a myth. At the heart of the story, there was a lot of political intrigue—full of betrayals, plays for power, and so on. It was expected because the main characters were dealing with the imminent collapse of the Flow, and whatever ramification came from it. That also included the fate of the central government of the Interdependency. The Consuming Fire also touched on some interesting topics, such as the subject of denial of actual facts, and those in power trying to maintain it during a time of crisis. It’s something that was done well.

There was also more information about the Flow, which specifically delved into more about the collapse. Even if it wasn’t specific about what the Flow is, or where it came from. That being said, it still presented some interesting questions about the history that predates the Interdependency's inception.

Overall, The Consuming Fire was great. I liked the characters, and the twists were unexpected and exciting. Now, I’m very excited about what could happen in the third book in the series, The Last Emperox....

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Review: Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

36959639Title: Small Spaces
Series: Small Spaces #1
Author: Katherine Arden
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; Hardcover
More Details: Fantasy; Middle Grade
Publisher/Publication Date: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers; September 25, 2018

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
Bestselling adult author of The Bear and the Nightingale makes her middle grade debut with a creepy, spellbinding ghost story destined to become a classic... 
After suffering a tragic loss, eleven-year-old Ollie only finds solace in books. So when she happens upon a crazed woman at the river threatening to throw a book into the water, Ollie doesn't think--she just acts, stealing the book and running away. As she begins to read the slender volume, Ollie discovers a chilling story about a girl named Beth, the two brothers who both loved her, and a peculiar deal made with "the smiling man," a sinister specter who grants your most tightly held wish, but only for the ultimate price. Ollie is captivated by the tale until her school trip the next day to Smoke Hollow, a local farm with a haunting history all its own. There she stumbles upon the graves of the very people she's been reading about. Could it be the story about the smiling man is true? Ollie doesn't have too long to think about the answer to that. On the way home, the school bus breaks down, sending their teacher back to the farm for help. But the strange bus driver has some advice for the kids left behind in his care: "Best get moving. At nightfall they'll come for the rest of you." Nightfall is, indeed, fast descending when Ollie's previously broken digital wristwatch, a keepsake reminder of better times, begins a startling countdown and delivers a terrifying message: RUN. Only Ollie and two of her classmates heed the bus driver's warning. As the trio head out into the woods--bordered by a field of scarecrows that seem to be watching them--the bus driver has just one final piece of advice for Ollie and her friends: "Avoid large places. Keep to small...."

I read Arden’s Winternight trilogy and was interested to see if her middle-grade novel was just as good. So, the first book I read in 2019 was Small Spaces. It was an excellent choice. While the beginning was a little shaky, once I reached the middle point of the book, the plot picked up and the creepy and mysterious aspects of the story kicked in. What followed was an excellent story about bargains, the price that must be paid, a field trip gone wrong, and scarecrows set against the backdrop of a seemingly ordinary town with some sinister ghosts in its past.

Between the mystery surrounding the book within the book as well as the truth behind the enigmatic Smiling Man, there was a lot to like about Small Spaces. One such thing was the fantastical elements of the story, especially how it tied into the plot by taking ordinary places and dressing them up with ghosts, scarecrows, and mist. And you know what? It worked to the stories advantage by providing some genuinely creepy moments.

The narrator, Olivia (Ollie) Adler, initially came off as very abrasive. She was angry over a personal loss and somewhat impulsive. She hurt others, stole a book that wasn’t hers to take, but she was still caring and felt—somewhat—guilty over her actions. Once Ollie started reading the book and more about Beth’s life was revealed, I was immediately became interested. During the first half of the book, I almost wished the actual story was from Beth’s perspective, because Arden was able to craft an intricate and eerie story about what happens to those who cut deals with the Smiling Man in such a small amount of words. And oh, it was excellent. However, as the story progressed, I was more appreciative of Ollie’s perspective and the connections she formed with the other characters.

Overall, Small Spaces was good. If you’re looking for a quick read with small towns and ghosts, then I recommend giving this one a try....

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Review: Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker

34466963Title: Why We Sleep
Series: n/a
Author: Matthew Walker
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; paperback
More Details: Nonfiction; Science
Publisher/Publication Date: Scribner; October 3, 2017

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Synopsis from Goodreads...

The first sleep book by a leading scientific expert—Professor Matthew Walker, Director of UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab—reveals his groundbreaking exploration of sleep, explaining how we can harness its transformative power to change our lives for the better....

Sleep is one of the most important but least understood aspects of our life, wellness, and longevity. Until very recently, science had no answer to the question of why we sleep, or what good it served, or why we suffer such devastating health consequences when we don't sleep. Compared to the other basic drives in life—eating, drinking, and reproducing—the purpose of sleep remained elusive. An explosion of scientific discoveries in the last twenty years has shed new light on this fundamental aspect of our lives. Now, preeminent neuroscientist and sleep expert Matthew Walker gives us a new understanding of the vital importance of sleep and dreaming. Within the brain, sleep enriches our ability to learn, memorize, and make logical decisions. It recalibrates our emotions, restocks our immune system, fine-tunes our metabolism, and regulates our appetite. Dreaming mollifies painful memories and creates a virtual reality space in which the brain melds past and present knowledge to inspire creativity. Walker answers important questions about sleep: how do caffeine and alcohol affect sleep? What really happens during REM sleep? Why do our sleep patterns change across a lifetime? How do common sleep aids affect us and can they do long-term damage? Charting cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs, and synthesizing decades of research and clinical practice, Walker explains how we can harness sleep to improve learning, mood, and energy levels; regulate hormones; prevent cancer, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes; slow the effects of aging; increase longevity; enhance the education and lifespan of our children, and boost the efficiency, success, and productivity of our businesses. Clear-eyed, fascinating, and accessible, Why We Sleepis a crucial and illuminating book....
Why We Sleep is probably one of the most fascinating nonfiction books I’ve read this year. Organized in four sections—This Thing Called Sleep, Why Should You Sleep?, How and Why We Dream, and From Sleeping Pills to Society Transformed—Matthew Walker expertly writes about the science behind sleep and dreams.

Why We Sleep went into a number of topics. Things like the effects from the lack of quality NREM and REM sleep can have on the mind and body was talked about, as well as the benefits of sleep well with a healthy number of uninterrupted hours. Walker also went into the connection between sleep and memory. So, as a whole, I liked the majority of this book. It was highly informative.

While I was reading Why We Sleep, it was easy to see that Walker knew what he was talking about. Throughout the chapters, he goes in depth about studies that have been conducted over the years, and many of the ones he cited were those he was involved in during his career. That kind of first hand observation and knowledge about what it takes to study sleep—the high and low points experienced during the research process + revelations (aha moments) from unexpected sources—was part of what made the book so interesting.

One of my favorite sections of Why We Sleep was How and Why We Dream, which, as the name suggests, went in-depth about some of the science behind dreaming. And there were studies to back up the information provided. It was pretty cool to read about since I never considered those specific reasons for how dreams correlate with things experienced while awake.

Later down the road, I would like to read more about the subject of sleep. For now, I want to look into buying a copy of Why We Sleep since I only checked it out from the library. This is one book that I want to have on my shelf.

What about you? Have you read any books about sleep or dreaming? If you have, feel free to leave any recommendations down in the comment section below....

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