Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Book Review: The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell

The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell book cover and review
The Last Magician creates a unique, magical world full of wonder and a lot of danger.

Esta can travel through time with the help of a stone in a bracelet she wears.  Professor Lachlan has been like a father to her and has taught her everything she needs to know to survive in other time periods and return safely. She is a master thief, and her ability to slow time helps her immensely.

New York City is different than the one we are familiar with.  There is a barricade, called "The Brink" that keeps everyone with magical powers from crossing the river and leaving Manhattan.  If they do, their magic is stripped, sometimes causing their death. "The Order" is a group of men who are bound and determined to uphold The Brink and rid the city of anyone with magic. Esta has been training for one, all important mission--to return to 1902 and steal a book that will allow the destruction of The Brink.

The setup is complex, and I missed a few things, I think.  It took me a while to "get it" and I probably should have gone back and re-read the beginning again.  But this is a looooong book, so I just went with it. Once Esta went back to 1902 it was very exciting, although I thought at times the book dragged.  The action was interrupted by constant reiterating of points we already knew.  How awful The Brink is, how devious certain characters are, how determined Esta is to betray everyone in 1902. Somewhere some of that could have been cut.

The ending is excited and unexpected.  The reader really has no idea what is going to happen, which is wonderful.  This episode does have some closure, but then we are thrown right back into the conflict and danger, only to be left hanging -- waiting for the next installment.

I hesitate to read books with a lot of magic because sometimes things just become too easy if every problem is solved by its use.  However, The Last Magician has enough interesting rules about magic and the way it is used never feels like an easy out.

My teen book club chose this one for December, and I'm looking forward to hearing their thoughts.  I would recommend The Last Magician to any readers who enjoy fantasy and alternate worlds.

Published by Simon Pulse, July 18, 2017
Copy obtained from the library
500 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Monday, November 20, 2017

Book Review: Odd & True, by Cat Winters @catwinters

Odd & True by Cat Winters book cover and review
I'm feeling very repetitive, but as I say in all my reviews of Winter's books, I love the way she weaves together a historical setting, intriguing characters, and a smidgen of magic into a remarkable tale.

Odd & True is the story of two sisters in the early 1900s.  They live with their aunt, and Od, the oldest, tells her younger sister, Tru, stories of their mother's supernatural power to ward off demons and ghosts of all kinds. They have a magical box, a special necklace, and a mirror in their window to keep the bad things away.

Tru is crippled from polio and spends most of her time in a wheelchair. We get flashbacks from Od's point-of-view about their childhood.  When Od is 15, she is sent away by Aunt Vik and is never to return.  Tru has no idea why but receives letters from her sister indicating that she has a job reading Tarot cards in the circus.

When Tru is about to turn 15, Od returns and convinces Tru that they need to go on an adventure and hunt monsters around the country.  Tru convinces Od that they need to go find their mother. So their journey begins. They find many other things along the way.

That is such a bland description for a beautiful book. Od and Tru are such vivid, complete characters whose motivations may be unclear, but their hearts are true.  Od is keeping secrets about what really happened when she was away, but all will be revealed. I did find it took a while for Odd & True to really grab me, but it certainly did.

And about that magical power to ward off demons?  Has the power passed to the sisters? Well, I'll let you find out.

I've read four other books by Cat Winters and have given three of them a rating of 5/5.  The other got a 4/5.  Suffice it to say, she's one of my favorite authors. Her books defy categorization.  All of her books contain author's notes at the end that suggest further reading on the historical aspects of the story.  Odd & True actually contains a full bibliography.

If you haven't read Cat Winters, give Od & Tru (or any other of her books) a try.  It's an immersive experience.

Published by Amulet, September 12, 2017
Copy obtained from the library
358 pages

Rating: 4.5/5

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Book Review: Artemis by Andy Weir @andyweirauthor ‏

Artemis by Andy Weir book cover and review
The Martian is one of my favorite books, so Artemis had some big shoes (or book covers) to fill.  It did not disappoint.

Jazz lives on the moon.  She's on her own after she and her father split. She is making it, but barely.  She smuggles contraband into Artemis, the city on the moon.  When the opportunity arises for her to make real money -- like being set for life -- she goes for it, even though it's an impossible task.  Things don't go well and Jazz gets in deeper and deeper, but if there is one thing she is, it's tenacious.

Jazz is also very intelligent - one might even say she's a genius.  The obstacles she must overcome are huge, and some of her schemes are inconceivable.  But the stakes are high, so after convincing a few others to help her she goes for it. And misses.

Artemis is not marketed as a young adult book, but the main character is a teenager, so I think teens will enjoy this. Weir once again doesn't shy away from some scientific explanations for what is happening. You can enjoy the science, but if not there is still plenty of story around it to "skip" it.  One thing I missed, as compared to The Martian, is the humor.  Jazz is a pretty serious character, not given to seeing the humor in her situation as was Watney.

The story definitely kept my interest, and it moves at a fast pace. Artemis has a complete ending, but I wouldn't be surprised if we join Jazz again on some more adventures. I, for one, would enjoy that.

Published by Crown, November 14, 2017
eARC obtained from NetGalley
387 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Book Review: The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan book cover and review
I chose The Thirty-Nine Steps somewhat randomly on my Serial Reader, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I didn't realize it was a movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and I'm looking forward to viewing that next.

It's 1914 and Richard Hannay has gotten himself in a spot.  An American journalist is staying with Hannay in his flat in London and he has information about a plot to assassinate the Greek Premier. This will plunge Europe into a war. But before he can do anything, he is murdered, and Hannay must run because he is being accused of the murder and also being chased by the people who killed the journalist.

Hannay takes to the English countryside and is assisted by a few people, but also comes very close to being caught several times. His ingenuity in eluding capture is entertaining.  In the end, the good guys win out, but war is inevitable.

Buchan's writing style is easy to read and he does a good job of mounting the tension and also creating the sense of desperation that Hannay feels at times. It is a classic, though, so it is somewhat genteel. The book isn't too long and ties up nicely.

If you are interested in a classic thriller, The Thirty-Nine Steps should be considered.

Published by William Blackwood and Sons, 1915
eBooks obtained from Serial Reader
90 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Audiobook Review: Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani @AdrianaTrigiani

Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani book cover and review
Kiss Carlo is a heartwarming, genuine, historical story about an Italian family in 1949 South Philadelphia.

Trigiani develops each and every character so distinctly that you fall in love with all of them.  Nicky Castone is at the center of the story.  He lost both of his parents at a young age and was taken in by his Aunt Jo and Uncle Dom Palazzini.  He drives a cab for Dom's company.  Dom and his brother, Mike, have been estranged for many years.  The cousins miss each other, but they are forbidden to associate with each other.

Calla Borelli directs Shakespeare plays at her father's Borelli Theater.  Nicky helps with the shows as a prompter.  Nicky's fiance (of seven years), Peachy, doesn't know about Nicky's work with the theater.  Calla's boyfriend, Frank, wants to buy the theater (which isn't making any money) from Calla and build apartments.  Calla, of course, doesn't know this.

Hortense Mooney, the dispatcher at the cab company, is another one of Nicky's support people.  She's like another mother and gives Nicky advice that he's not comfortable with.  She tells him not to marry Peachy.

We follow each of these character's stories (and many others) as they flow through life trying to make something of themselves.  They each affect Nicky's story in different ways. Trigiani closes the book for every character.  Even smaller characters, for example, Mamie, get closure.  Some may find this overly detailed, but I enjoyed finding out how everyone evolved.

Trigiani writes beautifully and listening to an audio version is my favorite way to enjoy her stories.  Nothing will ever beat The Shoemaker's Wife, but Kiss Carlo reminds me of that one. Edoardo Ballerini does a great job as narrator with distinct but not over-the-top voices for all of these colorful characters.

Kiss Carlo is a rich, epic tale about love and life, and I highly recommend it.

Published by Harper, June 20, 2017, HarperAudio
Audiobook obtained from the library
544 pages

Rating: 5/5

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Monday, November 6, 2017

Book Review: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green book cover and review
I enjoyed Turtles All the Way Down. I attribute that enjoyment to Green's writing style because I'm not sure I would have enjoyed a book like this by anyone else.

Aza is crippled by her own thoughts.  She is convinced that she's going to get an infection (mostly C. diff, but any infection will do) and it's going to kill her.  When she starts thinking these things, it begins a downward spiral that she has trouble escaping.  She sees a psychiatrist, and her mother is supportive, but she can't escape.

When billionaire Russell Pickett disappears and a $100,000 reward is offered, her friend Daisy convinces Aza to contact Russell's son, Davis, who Aza used to know.

Aza and Davis begin a relationship that is difficult, to say the least.  Aza has her issues, and Davis is dealing with a fugitive father and a younger brother who is devastated that his father just up and left.

The characters are what kept me invested in Turtles All the Way Down.  The plot is rather simple and meandering, but you get connected to the pain and heartache that they are experiencing along the way.  You may want to prepare yourself for a less than happy ending.  It's realistic and genuine, but not necessarily happy.

This is John Green.  If you are a fan, you will enjoy this book.  Maybe it's not his best, depending on your opinion, but definitely worth the read.  It won't take much pushing to get my teens to read it.

Published by Dutton BFYR, October 10, 2017
Copy obtained from a friend
304 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Thursday, November 2, 2017

Book Review: The Empress by S. J. Kincaid

The Empress by S. J. Kincaid book cover and review
Wow!  Just wow!  The Empress is one of the most surprising books I've ever read.

I enjoyed The Diabolic very much.  In a normal, great book sort of way. But it didn't surprise me.  And I thought it was a stand-alone.  Apparently, plans changed.

Tyrus is now the emperor.  And Nemesis is supposed to be the empress, but no one wants a diabolic to be empress.  So everyone is fighting against them.  The beginning of the book is them trying to establish their control over the kingdom, but it isn't easy.  Perhaps not even possible.  Too many are scheming and plotting.  Loyalties change at the drop of a hat.  The vicars won't give their support, so Tyrus doesn't have the true power the emperor should wield. Tyrus and Nemesis come up with a scheme that will assure their power, but on the other hand, it may result in their death.

The first 30 - 40 percent of the book is about the politics and religion that drives these people.  It was a bit too much for me, but once they executed the aforementioned plan, the pace ramped up, and it was relentless.  The twists in The Empress came so fast a furious that I really had to stop and catch my breath, but no, I couldn't because I had to know what happened. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that no reader could possibly predict these events.  They are brutal. If you are expecting an eventual "and they lived happily ever after..." for these two, well, you've got another thing coming.  Kincaid doesn't pull any punches even with our main characters.

And now that this is a series, the ending is pretty cliffy.  I can't imagine what's up next--I wouldn't even hazard a guess.  Becuase everything is up for grabs. 

My teens really enjoyed The Diabolic and I can't wait to give them The Empress.  Well done Ms. Kincaid!

Published by Simon & Schuster BFYR, October 31, 2017
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
384 pages

Rating: 4.5/5

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Book Review: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie book cover and review
The Mysterious Affair at Styles is Christie's first published novel.

It's an intriguing murder mystery with the usual red herrings.  Everyone is hiding something, so everyone seems guilty.  Poirot is quiet about his thoughts through most of the investigation, much to the chagrin of his sidekick, Hastings, who is certain Poirot is aged and losing his faculties. This only adds to the entertainment.

I did have to write down the character names at first.  They are introduced quickly and writing their relationships helped me keep them all straight.

While each of her mysteries follows a predictable pattern, they are unpredictable. If you enjoy murder mysteries, Christie will not disappoint.  They are classics for a reason. 

Her books are short and once the murder happens, they captivate the reader.

Published by John Lane, 1920
eBook obtained from Serial Reader
296 pages

Rating: 4.5/5

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