June 23, 2017

Book Review: A Conjuring of Light by V. E. Schwab


A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic #3)

by V. E. Schwab

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Magic
Publisher: Tor Books
Page Count: 624 pages
Published: February 21, 2017
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble
Note: The third in a three-part YA series, preceded by A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows. V. E. Schwab also publishes as Victoria Schwab.

My Goodreads Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Official Book Summary:

Witness the fate of beloved heroes - and enemies.

THE BALANCE OF POWER HAS FINALLY TIPPED...
The precarious equilibrium among four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity of magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empire, leaving a space for another London to rise.

WHO WILL CRUMBLE?
Kell - once assumed to be the last surviving Antari - begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties. And in the wake of tragedy, can Arnes survive?

WHO WILL RISE?
Lila Bard, once a commonplace - but never common - thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her dry. Meanwhile, the disgraced Captain Alucard Emery of the Night Spire collects his crew, attempting a race against time to acquire the impossible.

WHO WILL TAKE CONTROL?
And an ancient enemy returns to claim a crown while a fallen hero tries to save a world in decay.
 
Book Quote:
 
"Scars are not shameful, not unless you let them be. If you do not wear them, they will wear you."
 
My Review:
 
Just not for me. The plotting in this novel seemed more haphazard and there was a greater emphasis on romance than characterization.
 
I think where I differ from others who have loved the series (particularly regarding the ending whereas I preferred the beginning) is my difficulty in maintaining an investment in Lila and Kel as they increasingly become not the lead characters, but two of a cast. In A Conjuring of Light, Holland, Alucard, and other members of the royal family play much larger roles with the narrative focusing entirely on them for chapters or large passages at a time. I kept wanting the story to go back to Lila and Kel alone.
 
I understand the author's utilization of a larger cast--it helps complicate the story, enrich the setting, and diversify the twists and turns--but I felt  because I never felt a connection to them, I was increasingly disinterested and bothered by where the story was spinning its wheels on love scenes instead of moving strides forward with action, consequence, and character development.
 
As a last note, I will add that I absolutely adore the book covers for each installment in this series. I think they are perfectly executed and are some of my favorite young adult book covers I've seen in years. 

June 22, 2017

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


A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2)

by V. E. Schwab

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Magic
Publisher: Tor Books
Page Count: 512 pages
Published: February 23, 2016
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble
Note: The second in a three-part YA series, followed by A Conjuring of Light (review forthcoming). V. E. Schwab also publishes as Victoria Schwab.

My Goodreads Rating: 3/5 stars


Official Book Summary:

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.

Quote:

"She bent most of the rules. She broke the rest." 


My Review: (spoilers ahead)

The first third was great: Lila left London and is a pirate-in-training aboard an infamously dangerous captain's ship and Kell is struggling to return to life as normal as a close associate but not full member of the royal family, his life now bound to Rhy's. Awesome. The beginning is fantastic because it starts in media res with Lila adrift in the ocean and the reader having no clue as to how she got there. As the story proceeds through her point of view, on the one hand I was intrigued by the setting and seeing what she was up to on her own adventures, but on the other hand I was really put off by how violent she is, often just for the sake of being violent.

The next third of the novel was just really slow, boring, and there are some major plot holes and spots with poor writing. This was extremely disappointing to me. I was invested in Kell and Delilah and their stories, and annoyed by following other characters' points-of-view. These pages felt like treading water as if the story wasn't sure where it was going.

Even more disappointing, was the last third which was predictable and a bit ridiculous (some online reviews reported that some readers actually shed tears...what?). Spoiler: Do you really think the author is going to kill off one of her two main characters so easily and carry on through an entire third installment without them? This isn't LOST. I understand the need for cliffhangers, but I wasn't buying the drama in the book's final pages.

Furthermore, my real struggle with the ending is based on the fact that I find it impossible to believe that the author expects her audience to accept that Lila mastered learning magic all by herself in just a couple of months. Mastered. Magic. Alone. With no help. Quickly. And the story doesn't detail how this happened. What? Really?

Overall, I liked A Gathering of Shadows enough that I finished the series, but the majority of that motivation was based on how much I loved the first book and what I liked in the first third of this one. I borrowed the last book instead of purchasing my own copy. Check back soon to see how I felt about the series' conclusion.

If you like this, try these other YA fantasy series... 

Harry Potter, The Lunar Chronicles, The Red Queen, The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Precious Stone Trilogy, The Illuminae Files, Matched, Uglies, Divergent, Percy Jackson


June 20, 2017

Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab


A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1)

by V. E. Schwab

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Magic
Publisher: Tor Books
Page Count: 400 pages
Published: February 24, 2015
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble
Note: The first in a three-part YA series, followed by A Gathering of Shadows and A Conjuring of Light (forthcoming reviews on both). V. E. Schwab also publishes as Victoria Schwab.

My Goodreads Rating: 5/5 stars

Official Book Summary:

Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.

Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.

Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they'll never see. It's a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they'll first need to stay alive.


 
Quote:

"I'd rather die on an adventure than live standing still."

My Review:

A really fantastic young adult novel about four parallel cities of London, each having a very different relationship to magic, and one of the last remaining men able to move between these cities. I was immediately caught up in the world of this novel. Since the ending of the beloved Harry Potter series, for me there hasn't been any other contemporary young adult or children's series about magic that has really felt well done. I tried Percy Jackson and while I could see its appeal to some audiences, I didn't feel interested enough to continue. The same was true of The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel--okay, but not my thing. I was surprised and delighted by how much I enjoyed reading about Kell's world and intrigued by Delilah's rebellion and mystery regarding her past. Obviously as an Anglophile, I love anything set in London and the concept of four parallel versions of the city was really cool.

In fact, I was enjoying the book so much and so convinced that I didn't want to miss any minor detail in the storytelling, that I did something I rarely do while reading--halfway through the novel I started over again, just to make sure I was picking everything up along the way. My 5/5 star rating is high--perhaps higher than it should be--but at the time, that was how much I was enchanted by this world.

I'll follow up with my reviews of parts two and three in the series (check back soon), so you'll have to find out how I felt about the rest of the series and if it lived up to the bar set by book one.

If you like this, try these other YA fantasy series...

Harry Potter, The Lunar Chronicles, The Red Queen, The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Precious Stone Trilogy, The Illuminae Files, Matched, Uglies, Divergent, Percy Jackson


June 13, 2017

Favorite Fathers in Literature

Favorite Fathers in Literature

This Sunday is Father's Day. I've seen a number of lists over the years about the best (and worst) fathers in literature, but I prefer to focus on the best. I'm convinced I have the greatest father of all time. I hope everyone feels that way about their dad, but if not, I hope they have other men in their life they admire. I put together a list of some of my favorite fathers in literature, but I would love to hear what you think--who are your favorite fathers in literature? Who did I forget? Here is my list in no particular order:

Atticus Finch
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Bob Cratchit
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Matthew Cuthbert
Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

Arthur Weasley
The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling

Thomas Schell
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

William Danny
Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl

Charles Ingalls
The Little House on the Prairie Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Otto Frank
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Robert Quimby
The Ramona Series by Beverly Cleary

Narrator
The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Hans Hubermann
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Man in the Yellow Hat
The Curious George Series by H. A. Rey

Papa Bear
The Berenstain Bears by Jan and Stan Berenstain

Mr. Penderwick
The Penderwick Series by Jeanne Birdsall

John Ames
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Calvin's Father
Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Honorable Mentions:

Uncle Tom
Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

The Big Friendly Giant
The BFG by Roald Dahl

Christopher Robin
Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne

Dickon
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

June 9, 2017

Book Review: Heartless by Marissa Meyer


Heartless

by Marissa Meyer

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Romance, Retellings
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Published: November 8, 2016
Length: 453 pages
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble
Note: The book retells Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as a prequel from the queen of Hearts point-of-view.

My Goodreads Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Offical Books Summary:

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.

Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans. 



Quote: 

"A heart, once stolen, can never be taken back."

My Review:

Marissa Meyer is the popular author of the young adult sci-fi series The Lunar Chronicles (you can read my review of the entire series here). When I picked up Heartless, I was curious, but definitely feeling a bit burned-out on young adult novels that I just didn't love. I felt I would read the first installment in many series, like it, but then find that the rest of the series would fall apart. While I thought The Lunar Chronicles was okay, I wasn't the huge fan that everyone else seemed to be. To make matters worse, while I love retellings, I felt like I was reading one after the other that just did worse than the one before. I was wary, to say the least.

As you can see from my Goodreads rating above, I was not disappointed and perhaps my rating reflects my excitement and feeling of refreshment after finally reading a young adult retelling that I felt did the original story justice. Heartless is an origin story of Wonderland's cruel Queen of Hearts. I like origin stories and really love it when an author doesn't sacrifice an ending to appease fans, but rather stays true to the character they've created. This is a frequently unpopular point-of-view. Many readers--young adult fans in particular--want happy endings and for stories to be neatly wrapped up with pretty bows, while I don't mind remaining questions or sad endings if I feel that's what the should happen within the plot. That's a bit of a spoiler, but nevertheless when you're reading an origin story about the Queen of Hearts, if it ends well, the author's obviously done something very, very wrong.

Following the journey of a young girl in love transform into an evil, vengeful monarch was great even if at times the writing wasn't perfect. It was great because the backstory Meyer gives Catherine really justifies the heartless cruelty we see in Lewis Carroll's beloved tales. I really enjoyed this perspective, the pages (453) flew by, and I recommend the novel to any Alice fans.

If you like this, try...

The Lunar Chronicles series, I Capture the Castle, A Darker Shade of Magic, The Sun is Also a Star, These Shallow Graves, Holding Up the Universe, Stalking Jack the Ripper, Orphan Train, The Siren, Between Shades of Gray, Salt to the Sea, The Matched series, The Selection series, A Study in Charlotte



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