Review of ‘Flamecaster (Shattered Realms, #1)’ by Cinda Williams Chima

Flamecaster (Shattered Realms, #1)Flamecaster by Cinda Williams Chima

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To start off, I have to admit that I hadn’t read the Seven Realms series that proceeded this one, but from what I’ve gathered, it’s still readable without prior knowledge from the former–though I’m sure you’d probably have more ‘A-ha’ moments if you had…
Anyway, even without having read the former series, I have to say that I really enjoyed this book and will likely be delving into the Seven Realms books in the near future.

Flamecaster was everything I could have wanted in a fantasy novel (not that I’ve actually read very many), and I’ll go ahead and list a few reasons why:

1. With my first reason, I’ll say that I can be pretty simple at times, and I think one of those moments came into play with the fact that I could actually read a majority of the characters’ names!! I tend to be a bit put off by so many authors and their inherent need for characters to have the most ridiculous names you can think up, so it was refreshing to read a book where Ash (Adrian) and Jenna were the names of the MCs! Sure, there are names like Taliesin, and Ash’s last name is sul’Han, but they’re still considerably easier to pronounce than some of the names I’ve come across before… Now that I’ve gone off on a tangent about names, let’s move on!

2. This being my first read from Cinda Williams Chima, I have to say that I really loved reading about this world she’d created. It was easy to navigate through, and you end up learning bits and pieces about the different kingdoms as you’re reading, leaving you both curious and excited to learn more as the series continues on. I’m not going to go into detail about what I found to be interesting, because of spoilers, but I will say that it concerns a certain geographic area called the Northern Islands… All in all, I just loved this magical world, and really look forward to learning more about the different realms.

3. MCs that I actually liked! Ash is awesome in his role as an ‘assassin hiding in plain view‘. He’s bent on revenge, but the revenge is extremely hard to follow through with when it’s against a king who is very well-guarded. So of course he must take on a role that can earn the king’s trust–that of a royal healer. He’s very skilled, but it’s his magic that first draws the attention of the king, and though I won’t go into that, I will say that the way he does so is very interesting and I can’t wait to see more from him.
Then we have Jenna. I loved Jenna’s intelligence, and I loved the fact that she knew all sorts of things when it comes to blowing things up! She ends up being imprisoned in the aforementioned king’s castle, and that’s when a lot of the exciting things really start happening!!

*The one thing that I didn’t quite care for:

4. The romance was a little meh. It’s a bit too ‘insta-lovey‘ to me, but since it doesn’t happen till later in the book, it didn’t overwhelm, so I’m able to forgive and move past it. Fingers crossed that it doesn’t end up becoming cringe-worthy in the next book!

In conclusion, besides the meh romance, I really liked this book and would recommend it if you’re looking for a well-written fantasy starring characters with beautifully normal names.

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Review of ‘The Last Magician’ by Lisa Maxwell

The Last MagicianThe Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary provided by the publisher:
Stop the Magician. Steal the book. Save the future.

In modern-day New York, magic is all but extinct. The remaining few who have an affinity for magic—the Mageus—live in the shadows, hiding who they are. Any Mageus who enters Manhattan becomes trapped by the Brink, a dark energy barrier that confines them to the island. Crossing it means losing their power—and often their lives.

Esta is a talented thief, and she’s been raised to steal magical artifacts from the sinister Order that created the Brink. With her innate ability to manipulate time, Esta can pilfer from the past, collecting these artifacts before the Order even realizes she’s there. And all of Esta’s training has been for one final job: traveling back to 1902 to steal an ancient book containing the secrets of the Order—and the Brink—before the Magician can destroy it and doom the Mageus to a hopeless future.

But Old New York is a dangerous world ruled by ruthless gangs and secret societies, a world where the very air crackles with magic. Nothing is as it seems, including the Magician himself. And for Esta to save her future, she may have to betray everyone in the past.
This book was such a fun read! The world, the characters, and the excitement of forbidden magic really were spot-on for me!

Let’s start with the world this book takes place in:

I think it was clever on the author’s part to set this book in New York, because in the early 1900’s–the time period most of this book is set in–there were many immigrants who came into America with dreams of being able to provide better lives for their families, or themselves. This reasoning really also tied in well with why magic could be found in the city, and why so many risked their lives coming into a city that would end up trapping them in. And then, being the early 1900’s, there was a lot of street gangs that ruled New York City at the time–these were usually depending on which nationality you were, i.e. Irish, Italian, and so on–so it made a lot of sense to have gangs be prevalent in this book, though these seemed to be more centered on powerful Mageus who “protected” those who paid tributes to be under their umbrella of protection. This was definitely a cool setting!

Now, for the characters:

I really liked Esta, whose affinity has to do with time, and being able to control it when necessary–or when she needed to make a point. This affinity helps her to go from present day to 1902, so that she may join a certain magical gang, help them with a heist, and retrieve an item she must bring back to the present. Esta is extremely street-smart, and is able to say she can pick any lock she comes up against, and these skills definitely come in handy when it comes to proving herself to the gang’s leader. I also loved how clever she was, always ready with a quick-witted response to anything Harte might have to say.
Since I’ve now mentioned Harte, I’ll say that I really liked how he was a guy who just wanted to live a better life…to be able to take care of his mother, though she didn’t exactly treat him very well due to something she faulted him with in the past, and mentally, she wasn’t quite right after coming in contact with the brink. Back to the better life point, he wanted to overcome his gang-related past, and with his magician ‘act’, live a relatively normal life that could provide him with some of the finer things, as well. But, Harte is dragged back into magic-oriented things, and must again deal with the people he’d left behind. Namely, Dolph, the leader of the gang Esta has managed to infiltrate.
Dolph, Nibs, Viola, and Jianyu are the secondary characters, who each bring their own skills and talents to make for a more interesting story, as well as strengthen the relationships between the characters so you’re able to see why each person is important and why they fight so hard for each other.

Finally, the forbidden magic:

I loved the element of magic being so forbidden in this world. This is a well-used plot-point, but it was so much fun in this instance. You’ll have to read to find out this find out more, but I will say that the Order are the bad guys in this story, and they’re the ones who have basically outlawed magic. I know, the Order…what a stereotypically used name for fiends, right? I’ll admit I did find the name to be a bit cheesy, but it wasn’t bad enough to stop my interest in this book.

All in all, I really did enjoy this book, and recommend it to any who are interested in reading about a magical world with cool characters.

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Mini Review of ‘Julia Vanishes’ by Catherine Egan

Julia Vanishes (Witch's Child, #1)Julia Vanishes by Catherine Egan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Mini Review Time.

I really hate to say this, but this book really wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped it would be. I’m not sure what I was expecting, maybe something along the lines of Witch Hunter, because of the whole ‘magic being outlawed, witches will be killed’ theme they both shared, but unfortunately, Julia Vanishes just didn’t interest me as much as the former had.

Because the character of Julia has the ability to go “unseen” by those around her, I was kind of assuming there’d be some life or death situations that would really highlight that ability. Sure, there were some instances when she had to go “unseen”, they just weren’t really all that exciting to me. I’m personally a sucker for characters with cool abilities, and seeing them use these abilities in really cool, epic ways, but Julia just fell flat for me, and just plain annoyed me. She also annoyed me because of her infatuation with a boy (whose name I can’t even remember right now) who never seemed to give 100% to their relationship–or even 50%. The guy was just lousy when you have so many better guys to compare him to in YA books.

Moving on from Señor Douche-face
(Okay, so he wasn’t that bad, I just happen to use the term ‘douche’ pretty freely when it comes to people (or characters) I do not care for.)

I feel like there was an attempt to make the world in Julia Vanishes unique, which was good on the author, but I feel like there was just too much info dumping going on. The information given just bored me, and when it went into the history of some magical beings and their crazy, fantastical names–I was ready to toss this book aside. The only reason I finished it is because I’d come too far to back out, and kept secretly hoping it’d get better for me. Nope. It didn’t.

I think at this point it’s safe to say I’m not personally going to recommend this one.

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Review of ‘The Weight of Lies’ by Emily Carpenter

The Weight of LiesThe Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Summary provided by the publisher:

In this gripping, atmospheric family drama, a young woman investigates the forty­-year­-old murder that inspired her mother’s bestselling novel, and uncovers devastating truths—and dangerous lies.

Reformed party girl Meg Ashley leads a life of privilege, thanks to a bestselling horror novel her mother wrote decades ago. But Meg knows that the glow of their very public life hides a darker reality of lies, manipulation, and the heartbreak of her own solitary childhood. Desperate to break free of her mother, Meg accepts a proposal to write a scandalous, tell-all memoir.

Digging into the past—and her mother’s cult classic—draws Meg to Bonny Island, Georgia, and an unusual woman said to be the inspiration for the book. At first island life seems idyllic, but as Meg starts to ask tough questions, disturbing revelations come to light…including some about her mother.

Soon Meg’s search leads her to question the facts of a decades-old murder. She’s warned to leave it alone, but as the lies pile up, Meg knows she’s getting close to finding a murderer. When her own life is threatened, Meg realizes the darkness found in her mother’s book is nothing compared to the chilling truth that lurks off the page.

———————————————————————————————————————————– The Weight of Lies is a wonderful book full of mystery and thrills that really kept me on my toes until the very end!

So, let me start by saying that I really loved this book!!!

One of the main reasons I think I liked it, was the mystery surrounding a young girl’s death over forty years prior, which had served as the “inspiration” for the murder/mystery best-seller by MC Meg’s mother, Frances Ashley. Honestly, Frances Ashley’s book came off as a sort of cheap knockoff version of Truman Capote‘s In Cold Blood–in the sense that it was basically the story of a real crime (though there happens to be a major embellishment I will not mention here)–and the reason it worked, was because it came out in a time when America was really into books and movies about creepy kids (think Rosemary’s Baby and the like).

Ashley’s book, therefore, becomes a cult phenomenon, which leads to her becoming extremely wealthy, and eventually leads to her partying, trust-fund daughter Meg resenting her. It’s really stereotypical, with Meg pretty much screaming poor, little, rich girl, but it does help lead up to Meg’s eventual decision to write a tell-all about her mother, which happens to include a new investigation into the murder that inspired her mother’s best-seller…

It’s when Meg finally makes it to Bonny Island–the very island the murder had taken place on, and the very island Frances had been when she’d first met the inspirations behind her novel–that the story really takes off. I had had no problem learning a bit of Meg’s back-story, as well as that of her mother, but when we are finally able to start digging into the mysteries of Bonny Island, and the resident that is said to have inspired a particular character in the novel, then we’re able to really start feeling the thriller aspect of this book.

And were there thrills!!

I absolutely love the idea of the MC having the sense that there’s someone on their trail as they’re investigating…someone who’s combing over the evidence they discover, in an attempt to eventually throw some sort of wrench into their investigation, and finally, someone who will have the MC feeling a strong sense of discomfort, thus becoming a real, possible threat in the end. Yup, all the hallmarks of a Lifetime thriller, I know, but we are all allowed our guilty pleasures, aren’t we?

One more thing, before I finish this review, and besides the fact that I did love the small cast of characters, I just didn’t really feel the need to go too in depth when it comes to that…is that I loved the way Frances’ book, the infamous Kitten, is somewhat shared through excerpts in-between chapters of main storyline. It really helps you get a sense of why her book was considered horror, and why the person who is the inspiration behind the fictional
becomes such a fascinating character that you just can’t seem to stop thinking about.

Well, there we are with my review. As I’d already mentioned before, I really loved this book, so that being the case, I will be more than glad to recommend it to others.

Thank you to Lake Union Publishing via Netgalley for giving me this copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Mini Review of ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mini Review Time!!!

Being that this is my first book from Neil Gaiman, I didn’t know what to expect. The blurb summarizing the book on the inside cover was interesting enough that it drew me in when I first picked it up several years back, but it sat on a stack of books until someone recommended I read his books, and I will definitely be reading more!

So, initial thoughts when I’d started reading this, were, ‘this book is weird, where is this even going?’ Reading through it a bit more, and I realize that the Hempstocks are…otherworldly–if that’s even the best way to describe them. Their presence in this novel is strange, but they really do help make for an interesting story! I loved the Hempstocks interactions with each other, as well as with the MC of this book. The MC is a seven year old boy when he meets the Hempstocks, and though they all know each other for a short while, theirs becomes a powerful relationship. The MC goes through several horrifying events, and only with the Hempstock’s aide does he even have a chance of getting through them.

I just love the word ‘horrifying‘ when it comes to describing a book, because this is just one of the things I live for when reading!

One more thought before I wrap up. It took me until the end of the book to realize that the MC was never named, and only because it was brought up in an author interview. I guess I was just so engrossed in my read, that I hadn’t even thought about it. Shrug.

Anyway, there we are with my review, I loved this and can’t wait to read more of his books!

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Review of ‘Odd & True’ by Cat Winters

Odd & TrueOdd & True by Cat Winters
(Release date: September 12, 2017)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary provided by the publisher:
Trudchen grew up hearing Odette’s stories of their monster-slaying mother and a magician’s curse. But now that Tru’s older, she’s starting to wonder if her older sister’s tales were just comforting lies, especially because there’s nothing fantastic about her own life—permanently disabled and in constant pain from childhood polio.

In 1909, after a two-year absence, Od reappears with a suitcase supposedly full of weapons and a promise to rescue Tru from the monsters on their way to attack her. But it’s Od who seems haunted by something. And when the sisters’ search for their mother leads them to a face-off with the Leeds Devil, a nightmarish beast that’s wreaking havoc in the Mid-Atlantic states, Tru discovers the peculiar possibility that she and her sister—despite their dark pasts and ordinary appearances—might, indeed, have magic after all.
Odd & True is told in parallel “modern” (the main storyline is set in 1909) and past accounts. The modern is told from younger sister Odette’s POV, while the past is from Trudchen’s. Cool, we get some history and get to find out how it is they come up against the Leed’s Devil (you may know it by it’s more popular moniker, the Jersey Devil), right? I mean, that cool cover has to come into play at some point, right? Well…yes and no. Yes, in the sense that we do inevitably have the MCs facing off with something, but it takes
too long to get to this point.

The idea of two young sisters living in the 1900’s, a time when females were considered – as well as treated as – the fairer sex, wanting to together go and fight monsters, was really a cool one. I had pictured in my own mind the different “monsters” or basically anything supernatural really, they could possibly battle before the Leed’s Devil case, but no, we get a lot of journeying to, and back-story. Oh my God! the back-stories really bored me to death! I feel like we could have been told, in lesser words, the sister’s history. Sure, a lot of what we’re told explains the sister’s current circumstances, but there was also a good amount that just seemed too…extra. Like I said, their history in lesser words, then we can be cool.

Moving on…

I liked the MCs well enough (yeah, even with my squabbling), and what’s always a plus for me, is that they weren’t annoying! Yay! I thought that it was really cool to see them in a field you just wouldn’t expect. At least, I haven’t read any books with characters like these, so I liked that about this one.

Finally, I haven’t seen any mentions of a sequel, and the epilogue seems to support that, but I feel like this book could really benefit from being a series, because there’s so many more monsters that could be highlighted in a book, and we can get to know the sisters more in “modern” times.

Really, though, I wasn’t the biggest fan of this book, I did enjoy it for what it was, so that’s all I can say.

Thank you to Amulet Books via Netgalley for giving me this copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of ‘Invictus’ by Ryan Gaudin

InvictusInvictus by Ryan Graudin
(Release date: September 26, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Summary provided by publisher:
Time flies when you’re plundering history.

Farway Gaius McCarthy was born outside of time. The son of a time-traveling Recorder from 2354 AD and a gladiator living in Rome in 95 AD, Far’s birth defies the laws of nature. Exploring history himself is all he’s ever wanted, and after failing his final time-traveling exam, Far takes a position commanding a ship with a crew of his friends as part of a black market operation to steal valuables from the past.

But during a heist on the sinking Titanic, Far meets a mysterious girl who always seems to be one step ahead of him. Armed with knowledge that will bring Far’s very existence into question, she will lead Far and his team on a race through time to discover a frightening truth: History is not as steady as it seems.

In this heart-stopping adventure, Ryan Graudin has created a fast-paced world that defies time and space.
I had never read a Ryan Graudin book before (though I do have Wolf by Wolf, courtesy of my Uppercase box subscription), but I can now say that I am definitely a fan!

In Invictus, we get the joys of time travel, but without so much of the clichĂ©d time paradoxes the blah that comes with being constantly told to not re-write history. No, instead we have four teenagers time traveling in order to acquire treasures from different time periods for their boss who happens to run a very successful black market business. So when it comes to venturing into the past, it’s all business until they are allowed free time to travel to pretty much any point they’d like.

Anyway, before I go off and end up summarizing more of this book, I’ll move on with my actual line of thought.

So, back to time travel without all the fun of paradoxes looming over everything. I really loved how time travel wasn’t all that we had to concentrate on in this book. Sure, it was really cool to see them travel to the Titanic in 1912, but the focus was set on our merry band of travelers first meeting Eliot, who pretty much crashes into their lives and blackmails her way onto the Invictus ship. I’ll be honest and say that at first I really disliked Eliot, because she always went completely against everything that Far (captain and boy wonder – for reasons that are explained in the book summary, and the book itself) ordered. I’m not saying I’m against a strong female character, I just happen to be a fan of order, and admittedly, I am known to outwardly cringe when things go off track in epic proportions…which is what happens when the team go to Pompeii on the day of eruption. Honestly, you’re going to have to read this book if you want to find out what exactly happened, but I’ll say that it was a huge plot twist, and really becomes a focal point in this book.

I already mentioned Eliot and Far, so now I’ll mention the other three characters who play a big role in this book. There’s Far’s cousin, Imogen, who’s job as a historian is very important when it comes to their clothing being as authentic to each time period they visit, and how can I not mention the fact that she’s chalking her hair different colors everyday? Oh the joys of being blonde, right? (I am so not blonde, so I do not have this joy.) I just loved her easygoing manner, and the dedication she had to her friends.
Next, we have Priya, Far’s girlfriend, and the ship’s medic, who brews a fantastic chai tea, and is the levelheaded one when Far needs rational opinion.
Finally, we have Engineer Gram, who happens to be extremely intelligent, and without his calculations, the ship wouldn’t land where it’s supposed to. He also possesses a love for Tetris, and for Rubik’s Cubes (both understandable, since I also love both, though I have never successfully completed a Rubik’s Cube…sigh). What he does not possess, is the realization that Imogen really, really likes him…sigh again.
Yeah, the characters each are fun in their own ways, and I enjoyed them immensely.

Now that I’ve mentioned my love of the plot and the characters, I will conclude by saying that the ending really lived up to my expectations, and I just really loved this book overall. Sure, it did start off a bit slow, or it could have just been that I was distracted, but once I picked this back up, I really couldn’t stop! The story was that entertaining for me! It’s probably pretty obvious at this point that I will gladly recommend it.

Thank you to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers via Netgalley for giving me this copy in exchange for an honest review.

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