Book Review – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne

harry potter and the cursed child - book coverI haven’t reviewed any plays on my blog here before, but with all the hype around the release of and my own nostalgic affection for the novels, it seemed like the perfect place to break with tradition. The most difficult thing about reading a play is that much of what transpires is meant to be literally seen; thinking of it or treating it as a novel isn’t quite fair. But I should hope that in reading it I would at least be inspired to want to see it on stage. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

The play begins where the book and movies ended—on Platform 9 ¾ as Harry and Ginny’s son Albus prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for his first year. There are several time jumps that then take place in rapid succession advancing the present to Albus’ third year—making him thirteen—and it’s clear that Albus’ relationship with Harry is strained at best. Harry isn’t thrilled with Albus’ friendship with Scorpius Malfoy and Albus resents the expectations and attention he receives as the son of Harry Potter—it isn’t fair. As rumors circulate that the Ministry of Magic has confiscated a Time-Turner (which were supposed to have all been destroyed), Amos Diggory shows up with an appeal for Harry to travel back in time and intervene to prevent Cedric from ever having been killed during the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Harry refuses but Albus overhears and decides he wants to help right an injustice he sees as being Harry’s fault. But of course, terrible things can happen to those who meddle with time.

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Book Review – Stars Above by Marissa Meyer

9781250091840_p0_v2_s192x300Where many young adult series are told in one character’s first person perspective, Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles wasn’t. With each novel additional characters were added to the mix and the perspective shifted regularly between them. This meant that where many young adult authors release complementary/supplementary short stories that offer a different character’s take on scenes the audience is already familiar with, her collection of stories, Stars Above, provided a different kind of depth—backstory. Most of the stories in Stars Above are greater explorations of the circumstances surrounding key moments in the series’ central characters’ lives that took place before the readers met them but that were hinted at or referenced briefly within the main books.

Most of the stories function as prequels to the books of the main series: how Scarlet’s grandmother became involved in hiding and healing Cinder as well as how Scarlet came to live with her grandmother in the first place; Cinder’s first days with her adoptive family in New Beijing; how Cress came to find herself in the satellite orbiting Earth; some of Thorne’s earliest schemes; Wolf’s early days as a soldier in Levana’s army; Winter’s perspective of growing up in her step-mother’s palace; Kai’s first impressions of Cinder. There are two stories that break from that pattern, however. The Little Android, while featuring an appearance by Cinder prior to the events of the first novel of the series, stands on its own as a reimagining of The Little Mermaid (the Hans Christian Anderson original more than the Disney version). Finally, the last story in the collection is a happy epilogue/sequel which finds the series’ four couples gathering on Earth for a long-awaited reunion and wedding. Continue reading

Book Review – Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

wintergirls - book coverSomewhere between Speak and The Impossible Knife of Memory, I missed that Laurie Halse Anderson had published another book—Wintergirls. Luckily I have friends who alerted me to my oversight and now I have corrected it. Always willing to dive into the darker realms of growing up, Anderson addresses the psychology of eating disorders—a subject everyone knows exists but few are willing to discuss or explore in the face of a society that doesn’t wish to change the ways it portrays and commodifies young women’s bodies.

Lia has been through treatment twice before to deal with her anorexia (a term that is not used within the narrative itself) but both times she has managed to escape intact, telling the doctors, nurses, her parents, and psychologists what they want to hear in order to hurry the process along. Though she and her best friend since childhood Cassie had suffered a falling out before their final year of high school, when Cassie turns up dead in a local motel and the other girl’s eating disorder is determined to be the root cause of her death, Lia finds herself haunted by Cassie’s ghost—Cassie had tried calling Lia thirty-three times the night she died. Is it in some way Lia’s fault? Will Cassie’s death turn out to be the wake-up call Lia needs or the final nudge over the edge? Continue reading

Book Review – The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

sudden appearance of hope - book coverI haven’t exactly been quiet about how much I adored The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (I even got two relatives and a close friend of mine to read it just so I’d have more people to talk to about it). So when I realized I’d missed the release of Claire North’s next book, The Sudden Appearance of Hope, I quickly bought a copy to rectify my mistake. A lot of what I loved about Harry August is still there along with a compelling new protagonist and set of circumstances, however it has a more pessimistic feel to it that I wasn’t expecting—but it does make sense given the contemporary setting and the themes to which the novel speaks.

While most teens feel at some point or another that the people in their lives are disregarding and forgetting them, for Hope Arden that was actually true. The people in her life could not remember her or her interactions with them once she walked away until her parents forgot her existence entirely and she was effectively on her own. Given the difficulties of holding a job when employers and coworkers couldn’t remember her from one day to the next, Hope became a practiced and effective thief, tangling and escaping the authorities using her unique condition to her advantage. But when she steals jewels from the neck of a Saudi princess at a high profile function, more than just Interpol is after her and technology remembers her. She nearly falls into a trap while trying to sell the jewels but a fellow darknet user, Byron14, reaches out to warn her and later enlists her for a job against an international self-improvement company—a job that has far reaching consequences for Hope and the world that forgets her. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Upright Heart by Julia Ain-Krupa

upright heart - book coverIn the case of Julia Ain-Krupa’s upcoming The Upright Heart, I find myself once again in the situation where what I was expecting based on the description provided and what I actually got were two very different things. Yet, when I went back to the description it actually is very close to the story being told in the novel—it just didn’t prepare me at all for the way that story was going to be presented. Luckily, in this case the surprising difference between expectation and reality worked in the novel’s favor, and I can’t honestly think of a much better way that the book’s description could prepare the reader for the way the narrative unfolds.

In the years following World War II, the people of Poland—both living and dead—struggle to make peace with all that transpired. Wolf married and moved to America before the war while the rest of his family were killed in the war; he returns to his hometown to see what is left and to say the prayers for the dead in the hope he and they may rest easier. On another plane, his first love Olga—a Catholic who helped hide his family as long as she could—clings to him when he reappears; she is unable to move on but isn’t sure why. A young woman, Anna, sees and feels the spirits of the dead around her, uncertain whether the people she sees are among the living or the dead; she is also haunted by memories of her former coworker, a woman who concealed her Jewish identity when they both worked as maids in the household of the governor general’s subordinate. Wiktor and his family survived the war but an on-the-job accident shortly after its end leaves Wiktor’s family mourning his loss while his spirit seeks to assist the spirits of others who have been having trouble moving on. Continue reading

Book Review – The Black Country by Alex Grecian

book cover - black countryAfter finishing The Yard a few months ago, I quickly put the rest of the books in Alex Grecian’s Scotland Yard Murder Squad series on my To Read list with the intent that I pace myself rather than read them all at once. It will be easier to wait before moving on from The Black Country, the second book in the series. Though the characters that helped make the series’ first installment so thrilling are still present, something of the magic is missing in book two.

Inspector Walter Day and Sergeant Nevil Hammersmith have been called away from London to assist the constable in Blackhampton—a coalmining town—with the search for two parents and their missing son. The inclement weather (a late season snowstorm) promises to be the least of the obstacles impeding the investigation. The people of Blackhampton are falling ill left and right and those who are well want little to do with the out-of-town law enforcement. Everyone seems to know more than they are willing to share leaving Day and Hammersmith with no one to trust but each other. Continue reading

Book Review – The Unseen World by Liz Moore

unseen world - book coverThe Unseen World by Liz Moore—available in stores today—is another case of a fantastic description that, when I started actually reading the book, wasn’t really what I was expecting. It wasn’t entirely a bad thing, as the novel had strong thematic resonance, but it did take me a while to get invested in it—more so because of its pacing and organization. Weaving the early days of artificial intelligence development and computer programming with a deeply emotional personal tale, The Unseen World is a layered glimpse into the past while also looking forward to the possibilities of the future.

Ada Sibelius has lived an unusual life for a fourteen-year-old girl in 1980s Boston. Raised by her single father, she has spent much of her life with him at the computer sciences lab he directs, learning what he taught her and contributing to the lab group on their developing projects despite her youth. But when her father’s health begins to cause problems and confusion, Ada is forced into a more traditional school (a private Catholic school as opposed to public school, but a school where she must interact with her peers in age) where she must face the fact that she isn’t familiar with the social morays of being a teenager. As her father’s health and mental state continue to deteriorate, Ada learns that he had more secrets than anybody knew—secrets that cause Ada to question her own reality and identity as she struggles to unearth the truth. Continue reading

Book Review – Alone by Lisa Gardner

book cover - aloneI was amazed by how well Find Her read after I discovered it was actually the eighth book in an established series. Since I tend to be a bit of a completest, I decided to go back to the beginning of that series to read the others as well. Going to the start of Lisa Gardner’s Detective D.D. Warren series, Alone, I have high hopes that the books will all end up being strong enough to stand-alone like the series’ first and latest installments.

Bobby Dodge is a Boston cop who also works as a sniper with a special tactical response unit. The first to respond when the team gets called to a domestic incident in which a husband is holding his wife and child hostage, Bobby finds himself taking the shot and killing the husband as the man raises his gun on his wife and puts his finger on the trigger. As if killing a man weren’t enough, it turns out the man was the son of a very influential judge who has it out for Bobby, accusing the officer of colluding with the dead man’s wife to kill him. Pulled into the thick of the case by the judge’s vendetta against him, Bobby learns more about the widow, Catherine Gagnon whom the judge accuses of abusing her son for attention. Continue reading

Book Review – Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship by Robert Kurson

pirate hunters - book coverMy fascination with all things oceanic began at a very young age and pirates have captivated me along with millions of others. I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately and the college course I took on piracy in the Atlantic is one of those classes I’ve been thinking of revisiting so it only made sense to add Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship to my reading list.

John Chatterton and John Mattera are two men who had vast experience with diving and exploring shipwrecks that many didn’t dare attempt. They had been planning on searching for and salvaging a significant Spanish galleon in pursuit of claiming the fortune that sank with her and had already invested large portions of their time and money in the project when they got a call and an offer from one of the most respected and well known treasure hunters around––Tracy Bowden. Bowden had been on the trail of a pirate ship, the Golden Fleece stolen and captained by Joseph Bannister during the Golden Age of piracy in the Atlantic. Certain he knew where it was and being in possession of the salvage lease to that area of the Dominican Republic, he sought to bring Chatterton and Mattera in to definitively locate and claim the wreck. When Chatterton and Mattera go looking where Bowden proposes the wreck to be, they find nothing and must search more than just the waters off the coast of Cayo Levantado to piece together the story of Captain Bannister and the fight with the British Royal Navy that sunk the Golden Fleece.

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Book Review – The Crown by Kiera Cass

the crown - book coverHaving finally gotten my hands on a copy of The Crown by Kiera Cass—the final book in her Selection Series—I’m mostly left wishing that there had been more to the series as a whole. It was a satisfying conclusion as far as the characters and where they end up as their arcs come to a close, but the series could have been so much more than just what was presented. There are hints at the depths it could have explored but it was content to go through the more superficial motions leaving this reader pondering what might have been.

Following her mother’s heart attack in the wake of her brother’s elopement, Eadlyn Schreave, the heir to the throne of Illéa feels the need to step things up when it comes to taking on responsibilities related to running the kingdom so her father doesn’t have to leave her mother’s side—and part of taking on more responsibilities means making some decisions concerning the Selection and narrowing down her choices. Going so far as to get rid of all but six, her Selection has suddenly entered the Elite stage. Still struggling with her public image and her people’s discouraging opinions of her, Marid Illéa—a descendant of a different branch of the royal family dating back to the nation’s origins—steps in to help Eadlyn with her public appeal. But as Eadlyn takes on more formal responsibilities and juggles them with the final stages of the Selection, she discovers she may have taken on more than she realized and her throne is unexpectedly threatened.

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Book Review – The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

golem and jinni - book coverA friend recommended The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker to me a few weeks ago and after reading the description, I was more than a little intrigued. Though it took some time for me to get into it, once I was in there was no turning back. It’s a novel comprised of pairings that don’t seem like they would make much sense initially but which are brought together in surprisingly beautiful, complementary ways. Compelling in the simple surface action of the story, The Golem and the Jinni proves even more engaging at deeper, philosophical levels.

The story begins with introducing—or in the case of the Golem, creating—the two central and titular beings of the narrative. The Golem’s creation and waking are quickly followed by the death of her master, leaving her untethered during the critical early days of her existence. She arrives in America with no one waiting for her who can help her navigate a city teeming with the hopes and wishes of thousands of people. A young tinsmith inadvertently releases the Jinni from a copper flask but the Jinni can’t remember the specifics of how he came to be trapped in a human form or who it was that put him in the flask. He too is wildly unprepared for life in New York City during the height of immigration. The Golem and the Jinni soon come to grips with how to survive in their new lives but both yearn for something more—to be able to be their true selves without fear though first they have to figure out what those true selves are. Continue reading

Book Review – The Yard by Alex Grecian

book cover - the yardThere are times when, as a reader, circumstances converge in the most interesting ways. Since seeing the television adaptation of And Then There Were None last month (my favorite Agatha Christie novel and probably my favorite murder mystery of all time as well), I’ve been on a mystery kick. I’ve also recently been busy getting interested in the television show Penny Dreadful, so when I happened upon a murder mystery set in Victorian London in the wake of the Jack the Ripper murders, I was primed to enjoy the book. But I think my enjoyment of Alex Grecian’s The Yard, goes beyond the fact that I came upon it at a time when my interests happened to converge in just the right way; beyond the mystery itself, The Yard explores an intriguing set of characters at a point in history when so much was changing in terms of the criminal justice system—from the technologies used to catch the criminals to the way metropolitan police systems were organized.

The London police are still reeling from their failure to catch Jack the Ripper and it appears they may be more directly under attack when the body of one of their men—Inspector Christian Little—turns up stuffed into a trunk at a train station. The case falls into the hands of Inspector Walter Day who has just moved to London with his wife and is beginning to question the decision. With the assistance of his fellow inspector Michael Blacker and the unorthodox Dr. Bernard Kingsley who quickly becomes Scotland Yard’s first forensic pathologist, Day works to catch the killer before any more policemen can be killed. In a city like London, though, beat cops like Nevil Hammersmith already know all too well just how many murders and disappearances fall by the wayside and how difficult it can be to pick up a trail when hampered by bureaucracy and apathy.

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Book Preview – Since She Went Away by David Bell

book cover - since she went awayI’m kind of in the middle of a murder mystery kick, so when I read the description for David Bell’s upcoming Since She Went Away it seemed logical to add it to my list. While there are certainly plenty of mysteries within the novel, I didn’t find the path to the answers—or the mother and son whose perspectives form the main narrative—as engaging as I had hoped.

Jenna blames herself for her best friend’s disappearance several months earlier—it was Jenna who called Celia and suggested the two of them get together in the middle of the night and try to recapture some of the glory of their high school days and it was Jenna who ran late when they were supposed to meet in the park. She finds herself in a static and frustratingly helpless position, as every call could be terrific news or terrible news or worst of all—no news. But as winter moves towards spring and her son finds first love with a vaguely familiar new girl at his school, the seemingly cold case begins to thaw as new leads pop up.

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Book Review – Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

thunderstruck - book coverHaving read and enjoyed so many of Erik Larson’s books in the past, I eagerly took up Thunderstruck though I had no real knowledge of the underlying subject matter—the development of trans-Atlantic wireless telegraphy and the 1910 Cellar Murder in London. Given his skill at weaving together seemingly disparate narratives elsewhere, I was eager to see how he managed to connect these two historical threads and while he managed to do so, it wasn’t as compelling as I would have hoped though it is a remarkable and effective juxtaposition.

Guglielmo Marconi took a concept that British scientist Oliver Lodge had lectured about and spent decades experimenting with it and developing a system of wireless telegraphy from it. With no formal scientific education—and little true understanding or interest in the science behind it—he becomes the epitome of “trial and error” invention. After he moved from Italy to England with the idea of patenting, marketing, and expanding his invention that he started clashing with the British scientists and their established way of doing things—in large part because he was rather socially obtuse. The politics of science, invention, and underlying copyrights helped drive his obsessive need to demonstrate his superiority and relevance, culminating in his determination to transmit wireless messages across the Atlantic ocean.

Juxtaposed against this biographical look at Marconi’s development of wireless telegraphy, Larson lays out the history of Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen and his second wife, Cara. Though his medical background stemmed from early homeopathy, he spent most of his professional life making and selling pharmaceuticals in the industry’s formative (and unregulated) years. His wife longed for the attention and glamor of the stage and was a domineering personality where he struck most who met him as submissive and kind. Living in London for some time, his wife’s friends became concerned when she apparently up and left for the United States only for her husband to later tell them he’d had word of her death overseas. Unconvinced, his wife’s friends brought their concerns to Scotland Yard and trigger an investigation that yields disturbing answers. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Virgin’s War by Laura Andersen

virgin's war - book coverI had been looking forward to getting a chance to preview the final novel in The Boleyn Trilogy’s sequel trilogy from Laura Andersen. The Virgin War, while not quite as tight narratively as The Boleyn Reckoning (the final novel of the original trilogy) packed almost as much of an emotional punch and did so while having far more narrative threads in play and delving further and further into the realm of speculation as this alternative history continues to take its inspiration from actual historical events and movements.

The inevitable war between England and Spain draws closer but Elizabeth I and her daughter, Anne Isabella (Anabel), Princess of Wales, have long been laying the groundwork for a counter to the anticipated Spanish attack on English soil. Elizabeth’s former husband, Philip of Spain (and Anne’s father) is driven to pursue the war from a desire to save his daughter’s soul by restoring her to the true faith… and because his latest wife and mother to his young twin sons, Mary Stuart, has a huge grudge against Elizabeth. With a political marriage proposed between Anabel and James VI of Scotland in the works, Anabel has been winning support for herself in the north of England while she and her mother have fed the public belief that they have fallen out with one another and that the young princess is malleable as far as Spanish influence is concerned. Involved in many of the machinations and assisting the Tudor women are the members of the Courtenay family as all involved work to balance their emotional struggles with the need to do what must be done to protect and preserve England.

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Book Review – The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

book of life - book coverOf the three books in Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy, this was the book I read the fastest. The final installment in the trilogy—though it’s unlikely to be the last in this universe she has created—The Book of Life deftly weaves together several of the plot threads that almost felt like they’d been dropped through the second book, while still holding tight to the newer plot threads from that second book. Once everything is brought together, the story presses toward a climactic showdown that probably won’t work for everyone but worked well enough for me.

Having returned from the sixteenth century with a better understanding of her powers and what they need to accomplish with regards to the Book of Life, Diana and Matthew must first adjust to the changes that have occurred in the twenty-first century in their absence—including the death of Diana’s aunt, Emily. Vampire customs and the rules of the Congregation’s covenant begin clashing with increasing frequency against the de Clermonts’ expanding family but their biggest problem proves to be a vampire son of Matthew’s who’d been disowned centuries earlier—Benjamin. Obsessed with discovering a way for vampires to reproduce with witches to create a master race, Benjamin has been working at the edges of things longer than anyone realized and is just as determined to find the Book of Life—and gain revenge on his sire by getting his hands on Diana and the twins she is carrying. Continue reading

Book Review – Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James

death comes to pemberley - book coverAs a general rule, I avoid what I consider unauthorized sequels to famous works—especially those that I love. In the last decade, there have been an absurd amount of novels along these lines for Jane Austen’s works and I have avoided them almost entirely. But having heard only good things about the 2013 television adaptation of Death Comes to Pemberely and recognizing the name of author P.D. James, I decided to make one of the rare exceptions to my general rule—and after all, I do like most twists on fairy tales and there are amazingly interesting novels like Wide Sargasso Sea (with its origins in Jane Eyre) and plays like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (with its origins in Hamlet), that I thoroughly enjoy. I feel that the novel, Death Comes to Pemberley falls somewhere between those and what I usually see as glorified fanfiction (which is not a criticism of fanfiction; when I say ‘glorified’ like that, I’m referring to books that would be considered ‘only fanfiction’ if the authors hadn’t found publishers and profited monetarily from them).

It has been six years since Elizabeth married Mr. Darcy and became mistress of Pemberley. As they prepare for the annual ball—referred to as Lady Anne’s Ball in honor of Darcy’s mother, who started the tradition—a terrible storm strikes along with tragedy. Elizabeth’s unfortunate and presumptuous youngest sister, Lydia, arrives in a carriage the evening before the ball, hysterical and claiming that her husband, Mr. Wickham, set out into the woods after their friend, Captain Denny, who first stopped the carriage to be let out, and that she fears one or both of the men must be dead having heard gunshots. When Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and a third gentleman set out to search for the pair, they discover Captain Denny dead and Wickham in a terrible state over his friend’s body, blaming himself for the man’s death. Bringing Wickham and the body back to Pemberley, Darcy must summon the proper authorities to deal with the inquest and the general suspicion that Wickham had more to do with Denny’s death than he’s willing to admit, dragging Darcy and Pemberley into the thick of things and notoriety once more.

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Book Review – Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

jonathan strange mr norrell - book coverOne of my friends back in college recommended Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell to me so I went ahead and bought a copy but with all the reading I already had to do for my literature classes, I didn’t have the time or motivation to start such a long book and it went into my massive To Read pile. Then last year BBC America started advertising their miniseries adaptation of the novel. Since I had a vacation coming up and would be spending many hours in the car—prime reading time—I decided it was the perfect time to tackle the book and thought I’d have it finished in time to watch the show. I quickly found myself bogged down by the pacing of the novel and ended up sidelining it, reading a chapter here and there between other books but after almost a full year, I’ve finally finished Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

At the start of the nineteenth century, men of leisure in England are looking for new areas of study to explore and the illustrious history of English magic finds new life as Mr Norrell appears on the scene as the first practical magician in an age. But Mr Norrell is a bit possessive and controlling when it comes to magic. He hoards books of magic in his massive library, bars others from attempting to practice magic or call themselves magicians, and controls what magical theory is published—until Jonathan Strange stumbles into magic. Younger and with little knowledge of magical theory or history, Mr Norrell actually agrees to teach and work with Strange but he is still restrictive in what he will allow Strange to learn—a practice which begins to sow resentment between the pupil and his mentor until they eventually part ways and turn antagonistic towards one another. All through this, a faerie, initially summoned by Mr Norrell for assistance, intervenes with people in the two magicians’ lives to general misery without detection. Efforts to countermand the faerie’s enchantments may require the two magicians overcome their enmity and work together again. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

star touched queen - book coverThe description for Roshani Chokshi’s The Star-Touched Queen immediately drew me in from its promise of examining ideas related to fate to its origins in Indian mythology—an ancient mythology I am pretty much entirely unfamiliar with having had an education that focused primarily on the ancient mythologies of Western cultures. Because of this, I cannot attest to how heavily it draws from or relies on those deities and myths, but I can say that knowing next to nothing did not deter my enjoyment and appreciation for the story being told.

Born to the Raja of Bharata, Mayavati (Maya) is largely ostracized by the women in her father’s harem—his wives and her half-sisters—because of her horoscope and the fact that unfortunate things seem to befall those around her. At seventeen, Maya has long been spying on her father’s court and the diplomacy that takes place there. But war has raged for many years and it seems that peace can only be bartered through Maya’s marriage to a man from one of the other kingdoms—except there appears to be no choice that will not be viewed as a slight to one or more of the other kingdoms. When Maya is left to make her choice, an unexpected option presents itself in the form of Amar, the Raja of Akaran—a kingdom Maya does not recognize. Akaran proves to be a realm between worlds and Amar is not allowed to divulge its secrets to Maya until the next moon cycle. This proves long enough for doubt and suspicion to burrow into Maya and Amar’s relationship and wreaking havoc across many worlds and realms in the process. Continue reading

Book Review – The Illusionists by Rosie Thomas

illusionists - book coverRosie Thomas’ novel, The Illusionists is one that I bought a few years ago after reading The Night Circus and rewatching a few of my favorite magic/illusion movies (The Illusionist, Scoop, The Prestige except for the last few scenes, etc.). I don’t remember now why I had put off reading it but it has inspired me to do another rewatch. The Illusionists captures more than just the wonder of the illusions the novel’s central troupe performs, it captures the ways that reality and illusion play into each of their lives as well.

Devil Wix is a struggling magician looking for more regular work than what he gets performing in the streets. He stumbles across a dwarf by the name of Carlo Boldoni who has a knack for devising illusions as well as gift for performing them. The two prove to be effective collaborators as their competitive sides drive them both forward. Nabbing a recurring act on the stage of the newly reopened Palmyra Theater, their biggest obstacle to success becomes the theater’s owner, a greedy man called Jacko Grady who knows nothing about marketing or talent. The pair aren’t the only ones dissatisfied with Grady and soon the performers and their friends outside the theater begin to form an alliance and finally a company of their own. Heinrich is an engineer who builds automatons but is socially awkward and has difficulty grasping the line between real and machine, the controllable and those with free will. Jasper knows Devil’s real name and history having grown up together as boys, but his waxwork models prove valuable to Boldoni and Wix’s illusions. Eliza becomes a focal point for most of the men in the company as she challenges so many expectations of women during the time in which the novel is set but knowing what she needs from a relationship in order to maintain her sense of independence, she cannot make them all happy though she aims to keep them balanced without losing herself. Continue reading

April Fools

For the record, this is based on something that happened to me my freshman year of college, right down to the fact it happened on April Fools’ Day.


 

“Hello?”

“Dad? It’s Em.”

“Em? Why’re you calling? You should be on the road still.”

“Well, technically I’m on the road—or the side of it anyway.” She sighed and waited for a large semi to pass by so she could be sure of being heard. “First off—I swear this isn’t a prank.” Why of all the days for something like this to happen did it have to be April Fools’ Day?

Not a prank?”

“Right. I’ve blown a tire on my car and I’m going to need you to come meet me.”

“A tire? On the highway? Are you all right?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. It’s late enough that it’s not to crowded on the roads so I was able to get over without a problem. I wasn’t going too fast either so I didn’t swerve a lot when it blew.”

“Have you called AAA?”

“Yeah and I’m pretty sure I have a donut but I’m not even halfway back to campus.”

“How long till they get there?”

“Shouldn’t be more than a half hour. One of the state troopers already stopped to check on me once. He said he’d come check on me again when he got a chance—that he’d make sure the roadside assistance guy showed up before too long. He offered to help me get the donut on myself but I don’t have the right tools to do it.”

“I thought we got you that kit for Christmas?”

“It’s got the lug nut wrench but no jack.”

“So the AAA guy’s on his way?”

“Yeah. Once the donut’s on, I’ll head up to the next exit and head for a gas station or something. If you can meet me there and then follow me back home—I just don’t want to wind up stranded again. If the donut goes, I can get AAA to tow it, but I’ll still need a ride back.”

“And you’ll need a ride to campus in the morning, I guess. What time’s your first class?”

“Not until ten. And I’ll buy you one of those pastries you like at the café. Coffee too.”

“Oh, I’ll be needing two of those pastries, at least—one for a late breakfast and the other for the ride home again,” her father teased. “What exit is it?”

“I think it’s Exit 15—but it might be 14.”

“You don’t know where you are?”

“It’s dark and I’m not near any of the signs. I know I passed Exit 10 but I don’t get off until 27. I think I remember the sign for the outlets a little ways back and those are at Exit 13. It’s not like I was expecting this to happen.”

“Fine. I’ll head out now and when AAA gets there and you get the donut on, figure out where you are and call me when you’re at the gas station.”

“Thanks, Dad,” Emily said, ready to hang up.

“You promise this isn’t a prank?”

“I swear, it’s not a prank.”

Book Preview – I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

i let you go - book coverClare Mackintosh’s debut novel, I Let You Go, is being released in North America in a few weeks. While I hadn’t heard about the book prior to reading the description, I’m not surprised that it’s been a hit in the UK pretty much since it’s 2014 release there—I am a bit surprised it hasn’t been released in the US sooner. Though it can be read as a thriller, there are much deeper themes speaking to privilege, emotional and physical abuse, and atonement and forgiveness.

Tragedy strikes in the novel’s prologue as five-year-old Jacob is struck by a speeding car as he’s crossing the street in front of his house, his mother only a few steps behind him. The driver rushes away with only the boy’s traumatized mother as a witness. The narrative then follows the Detective Inspector in charge of the investigation as well as Jenna Gray who is running away from her life and finds a small, seaside Welsh village where she can disappear and start over. The police’s leads quickly dry up and other cases get moved to the top of the pile; it looks like Jacob might fall through the cracks when an anniversary appeal to the public gives them the break they’re looking for and the police arrive on Jenna’s doorstep to arrest her for the hit and run. Moving into the novel’s second half, Jenna’s past is explored and questions begin getting answers—but the answers aren’t easy to stomach. Continue reading

Book Review – Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

shadow of night - book coverSince I read and posted my review of A Discovery of Witches, I’ve heard that there will actually be more books in the series than just the initial trilogy. Having gotten further attached to the characters in the Shadow of Night, the second book in the trilogy, I’m excited that the next book won’t be the end—though I’m perhaps more excited to see how things played out in the present timeline while Diana and Matthew were in the past as well as how this particular plot ultimately wraps up.

Despite Diana’s familiarity with the history of Elizabethan England, when she and Matthew arrive after timewalking there, she has a lot to learn—about how to behave and live in the sixteenth century, about Matthew’s family and past, and about who she is and how her magic works. The tasks they set out for themselves—finding a witch to educate Diana and locating the Ashmole 782 text—aren’t as simple as they had hoped or planned them to be. Matthew becomes conflicted as he must act in accordance with his sixteenth century self though many of his beliefs have shifted drastically; Diana must come to terms with her magic, training so she can protect herself from those who covet her powers or might wish her harm. In the present, those Matthew and Diana have left behind wait and watch for signs of a changing history and portents of their return. Continue reading

Book Preview – A Man of Genius by Lynn Rosen

man of genius - book coverI’ve always loved a good murder mystery so when I stumbled upon the description for Lynn Rosen’s upcoming A Man of Genius, the combination of promised mystery with the exploration of genius and morality proved tempting. What the description didn’t mention was the unusual narrative framing that provides additional fodder for consideration and analysis.

After the death of renowned architect, Samuel Grafton-Hall, his lawyers struggle to execute an unexpected codicil related to his will, the details of which must be read aloud to his widow, Elizabeth, and she must comply with them if she wishes to keep possession of Upuna Rose and the architectural forum of students and employees who live and work on its premises. Getting Elizabeth to cooperate proves more difficult than one would expect. The codicil pertains to another of Grafton-Hall’s properties, Hesperus’s Walk, where decades before his first wife, Catherine, had perished in an unfortunate fire along with two servant girls. As the novel unfolds, the circumstances of Grafton-Hall’s professional and personal life in the years leading up to that fateful fire are presented—through the biased lens of one of the architect’s longtime lawyers—and the tenuous truth of what happened at Hesperus’s Walk is revealed.

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Book Review – 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, 1001 Books to Read Before You Die #170

2001 a space odyssey - book coverI’ve been working my way through some of the “classic” science fiction books to see and understand more of the genre’s origins and how it’s evolved. The science fiction titles on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list feel like a good way to kill two birds with one stone. What I knew about Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey before reading it was mostly just two things strongly connected to the film—the music from Strauss’ Thus Spake Zarathustra and the bit of dialogue referencing the pod bay doors—and neither of which turns out to have given much of anything away from the story at hand.

Beginning with the early education of mankind as he evolved from man-apes, 2001: A Space Odyssey follows a rather disjointed structure that makes pinning down the main plot a bit difficult. Some sort of extra-terrestrial force arrive in the African plains and study and educate those early ancestors of mankind in part one. By part two, man had already established working colonies on the Moon and made an unexpected discovery while exploring and excavating the Moon’s surface—a monolith that dates back to the days before mankind had fully evolved. A clear indication that intelligent life has or continues to exist in the greater universe, the rest of the book is much more focused on the mission to make contact—though who knows about the discovery and the true nature of the mission is kept pretty quiet. Dr. David Bowman and Dr. Frank Poole are the two active crew-members as the ship Discovery—with the assistance of a supercomputer, HAL—embark for Jupiter while their three companions wait in suspension to be reawakened upon arrival when they will conduct their experiments. Before they can reach Jupiter, however, the secrets of the “true mission” begin to cause problems with the HAL computer system. Continue reading