Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Fiction

The Magician King (book thoughts) by Lev Grossman

Well I definitely couldn’t stop reading at the end of The Magicians, so here are my thoughts on The Magician King! So many series have a second book slump and I was absolutely floored that this sequel was even better than the first.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Magician King
  • Series: The Magicians, #2
  • Author: Lev Grossman
  • Publisher & Release: Viking, August 2011
  • Length: 416 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ yes for fans of modern/contemporary fantasy

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

The Magicians was praised as a triumph by readers and critics of both mainstream and fantasy literature. Now Grossman takes us back to Fillory, where the Brakebills graduates have fled the sorrows of the mundane world, only to face terrifying new challenges.

Quentin and his friends are now the kings and queens of Fillory, but the days and nights of royal luxury are starting to pall. After a morning hunt takes a sinister turn, Quentin and his old friend Julia charter a magical sailing ship and set out on an errand to the wild outer reaches of their kingdom. Their pleasure cruise becomes an adventure when the two are unceremoniously dumped back into the last place Quentin ever wants to see: his parent’s house in Chesterton, Massachusetts. And only the black, twisted magic that Julia learned on the streets can save them.

The Magician King is a grand voyage into the dark, glittering heart of magic, an epic quest for the Harry Potter generation. It also introduces a powerful new voice, that of Julia, whose angry genius is thrilling. Once again Grossman proves that he is the cutting edge of literary fantasy

I will do my best to keep this spoiler free.

So you guys know that I loved The Magicians. There was no sophomore slump in this series as Quentin, Elliot, Josh, and newish characters Julia and Poppy now have to save Fillory (and the entire multiverse) from the end of all magic.

First off – I loved Poppy.  I would have paired her up with Quentin any day and she taught him a lot about optimism and perspective.  Quentin finally identified “home” and was willing to fight for it.  I loved when he embraced his sorcery and role. He learned what it takes to not only be a King, but a hero, and was willing to sacrifice everything for Julia at the end.  Even if he had known the price I think he would have said yes.

That said, I am probably the only one but I don’t sympathize with the Julia story.  She had it rough but she should have dropped it after failing the Brakebills exam.  When she got a second chance to return to normalcy and rejected that too – she made her choice.

The book got absolutely brutally grimdark towards the end as the hedgewitches essentially got what they asked for when knocking on the gods’ door. They endangered magic everywhere and were just idiotically out of their league.  I would have liked to know more about why the Free Trader Beowulf clan members weren’t chosen for magic school to begin with, what was the test really looking for?  They were so smart yet didn’t seem to consider the consequences of their actions

Their journey was interesting both  philosophically and from a religious standpoint. It was fascinating to follow their train of thought on religion as an objective study, translating to magic ….. but … I have to wonder what exactly they were thinking, to go from not trusting anyone to setting up a huge summoning which a total stranger presented! For being such geniuses they really did not think their plan through, and then the world went grimdark.

No spoilers but it takes a lot to make me cringe, and I was cringing.  I read an interview where Grossman stated that he thought the most broken people made the best creative works, and translated that into magic for the story.  The characters make so much more sense now.

All in all: I loved this one.  I liked the hedgewitch magic theory vs. religion, even if their levelling system was stupid.  I liked Quentin’s character growth.  I liked the humor.  I liked Josh’s comeback.  The magic was huge, dark, and wild in this one.

Mark Bramhall is once again a fantastic narrator as well.  I think with the humor and swearing and inflection, so much inflection, the audio narration brings a lot to this book.  I liked closing my eyes and envisioning Quentin storming the watchtower.  The end was wonderful too.  I think he does a great voice for Elliot, Josh and Quentin, and brings a lot of excitement and sorrow where appropriate.

Here are a handful of my favorite quotes:

“You didn’t get the quest you wanted, you got the one you could do.”

Grossman took a bit of time exploring what it is to be a hero

“Maybe this was one of those times when being a hero didn’t involve looking particularly brave. It was just doing what you should.”

Probably Quentin’s single biggest moment of character growth. Gosh I loved his protectiveness towards Eleanor and Benedict

“You’re saying the gods don’t have free will.”

“The power to make mistakes,” Penny said. “Only we have that. Mortals.”

An amazing bit on the gods – what is greatness if they can’t love their creation? Magic!  Quentin loved magic, he deserved it! He would fight for it!

“It’s true,” Eliot said. “Statistically, historically, and however else you want to look at it, you are almost never right. A monkey making life decisions based on its horoscope in USA Today would be right more often than you. But in this case, yes, you were right. Don’t spoil it.”

Elliot’s story ARC warmed my cold little soul in this one too. He’s found his place, his assertiveness, he’s taken charge of his home, and he’s as hilarious as ever.

The only other thing too is that I really love both alternate cover editions, I don’t just like TV covers but look at Julia! It’s beautiful

Screenshot_20220131-191503

That’s enough rambling, in a few weeks I’ll have my thoughts posted on the final installment of the trilogy!

Categories
Author Interviews & Guest Posts Fantasy

Sunday Brunch Author Interview Series: Featuring Sarah J. Daley!

Welcome back to the Sunday Brunch Series! Episode 19 this week features adult fantasy author Sarah Daley!  Her debut novel Obsidian just released on 1/25 and my full review is posted on the blog here if anyone wants to check that out! There are purchase links below as well

P.S. thank you endlessly to Gemma from Angry Robot Books for suggesting and facilitating this interview! 

Read on to see the motivation for Shade Nox and her tattoos, swoony casting choices, some hints about the sequel, and so much more!


🥞Welcome to the Sunday Brunch Series! As an introduction, can you tell everyone an interesting fact about yourself that isn’t in your author bio?

🎤I’m a pretty decent skier for having grown up in the Midwest. I didn’t learn until I was almost 30, and it terrified me at first. After a few years and some lessons, I grew to love it. Although, I have had some spectacular crashes, including a freak accident where I sliced open my knee on my own ski. Ouch.

🥞Do you have a favorite brunch food?

🎤That’s a difficult question because I love brunch so it’s hard to narrow it down to one thing. If I had to choose, I’d go with something decadent like a big Belgian waffle with lots of syrup and butter, or an order of fancy French toast. No matter what, I must have a side of sausage links. Oh, and a mimosa. It’s not brunch without a mimosa! 

🥞It’s always interesting to hear about different publication journeys and Angry Robot has a knack for sussing out talent! How was the “open door” submission process? (I mean obviously it went well, congratulations!!!)

🎤Frankly, I was about to give up on the traditional route and try self-publishing. I couldn’t imagine going through endless querying to find an agent (I hadn’t tried since the days of snail mail and SASE. Yes, it was a looong time ago.) But my heart wasn’t in it; I knew my limitations and successful self-publishing is hard, hard work. Still, the restaurant where I’d been working folded, and I decided to focus on writing instead of leaping back into cooking. Basically, I decided to give it one last shot. It was do or die time. So, as I was finishing up the latest draft of this novel, Angry Robot opened their doors. The timing was too perfect; I polished the first 50 pages, wrote a query and a synopsis, and sent it to them. Once I sent it off, I told myself nothing would come of it and put it out of my mind. Two months later I got an email request for a full manuscript. I was excited, but nervous, and again told myself nothing would come of it. Two weeks (give or take) after that, I got my offer. Even then, I could hardly believe it. Finally, after decades of writing, I was going to be published!  

Obsidian_mini jacket

🥞What was the first aspect of Obsidian that came to your imagination?

🎤It all started with a girl. A friend of mine, actually. Tall and blonde and tatted up long before it was a thing, she became my inspiration for a badass wizard woman taking on the establishment. I tend to write female main characters, so it was pretty easy to put her into a story. And I wanted to make her the hero – the strongest of the strong. Not the love interest, not the supportive friend, not the ‘helper’ who makes sure the hero gets to his destination, but the hero. From there, the story grew, the setting evolved, but the hero remained who I’d first imagined. 

🥞If you’re planning a sequel, can you share anything about your plans for it? (Please say yes, I need more of Raiden’s story)!

🎤The sequel is written for the most part. Obsidian is a stand-alone book, but Shade’s story is just beginning. Her enemies aren’t going to walk away and leave her in peace. She’s upended their entire existence, and that is unforgivable. It will take everything she has and more to face what’s coming. And Raiden will be right there with her. His past and what makes him so special are explored in more depth; he’s a major player in the next installment. Obsidian was a fast-paced adventure with a clear end goal, but the sequel gets more complicated. New enemies rise from the shadows and Shade and her people will be tested as they never have been.

🥞Do you have any tattoos? A favorite or any favorite stories related to them?

🎤I don’t have any tattoos – I’m not that cool lol – but I love them on other people. I love looking at them, and I admire the artistry and beauty of good ink. Being in the culinary industry has made me appreciate them even more. Every chef, line cook and wait person I know has awesome tattoos. My friend’s tattoos inspired me to put them in my story and make them part of the magic system. I’m happy to see how ubiquitous tattoos have become among the younger generations. I’d like to think my generation (the Xers) started the trend, but millennials and gen Z took it to the next level.  

🥞 Shade was really going against the island’s gender norms in Obsidian, with the tattoos and magic, is that a theme you were focused on?

🎤 The tattoos are vital tools of a bloodwizard’s magic, and they represent power and prestige. It’s why the Corsaro parade around in gladiator skirts, to show off their impressive ink. But they’re for men, for bloodwizards, to flaunt. Women have bloodmagic in Malavita, but it’s a patriarchal society, and they don’t openly wield it. To work her magic, Shade has to dress similarly to the men in her world, revealing an immodest amount of flesh. The fact that her tattoos are extraordinary only makes her enemies hate her all the more. It’s bad enough she thumbs her nose at the Brotherhood and the Corsaro by openly practicing magic, but to be stronger than all of them while she does it is unforgivable. Her tattoos are only a problem because they are on a woman.

🥞I liked that your characters were neither true heroes or true villains, they felt believable! What do you think makes a good morally gray character?

🎤I like characters who believe they are right and act accordingly, no matter the consequences. That whatever they have to do to achieve their ends is fine because it is necessary. The Brotherhood wants to maintain their power, but some believe Shade is a threat to their world, not just to their organization. Stopping her is necessary, and right, in their minds. I don’t like bad guys who act evil just to be evil, and I don’t like heroes who never make mistakes or never act impulsively. Those are the kinds of characters I like to write about and read about. The only truly evil creatures in my story are the Unseen, but they can’t help it.

🥞With so many films and adaptations coming out these days, which actors you’d cast for your main characters?

🎤I would love to see Charlize Theron cast as Shade, even though she’s a tad older than my MC. She’s just so cool and tough. I just watched Fury Road again and she was absolutely perfect in it. Who even needs Mad Max?? I also think Brie Larson would be great. She’s closer in age to Shade and she already played a literal superhero!

marvel_10

Dante Safire is tall, dark and handsome, and I can see someone like Henry Cavill (let’s aim high lol) pulling off his bearded, brooding look.

{{Oh my. *Swoon*}}

cavill_11_a_p

As for Raiden, I think Manny Jacinto would be ideal. He has the boyish good looks I imagined for Raiden. Plus, he’s absolutely gorgeous. 

Manny-Jacinto-in-The-Good-Place-1

{{Raiden’s face when Shade laughed after he tried to arrest her}}

🥞What main idea do you want readers to take away from Obsidian?

🎤Mostly, I want them to root for Shade even though she’s arrogant and snarky and a bit reckless at times. For all her bluster and her incredible power, she’ll do anything to save her friends and her clan.  

🥞Here is the rapid-fire round of bookish questions:  favorite author? A book or series that you always recommend? Favorite literary character?

🎤It’s hard to pick a favorite author. I’ve read extensively across many genres. I’ve read everything Robin Hobb and Octavia Butler have ever written, though, and I can’t say that about any other writer/s. I always recommend Hobb’s Liveship Traders series and The Farseer Trilogy, and I’ll never stop telling people to read Parable of the Sower! It has to be one of my all-time favorite books. Her Patternist series and Lilith’s Brood trilogy are also excellent. Just, literally, pick up anything she’s written and it will be awesome.

A favorite literary character is equally difficult to choose. I love the Fool from Robin Hobb’s books (of Fitz and the Fool fame) and Tyrion Lannister from GOT (the books, although Peter Dinklage was an excellent casting choice) because both were odd and brilliant and complex. I also think Elric of Melnibone was one of the coolest swordsmen ever created. (I was obsessed with Moorcock when I was young.) Those are just the ones I can think of right now. I mean, I could list favorite characters for pages. 

🥞Thank you so much again for taking the time to interview! If you want to add or say or talk about anything else, please do so here!!

🎤Thank you for asking me about my book!


Book purchase & Author links!

Sarah J. Daley is a former chef who lives and writes in the Chicago Metropolitan area with her husband and teenaged son. She earned a degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Though she still enjoys the heat and chaos of a professional kitchen, she is now writing full-time. She enjoys traveling, creating costumes for comic con, riding the occasional horse, and streaming old sitcoms for background noise.

On Twitter: @SarahJDaley

Instagram: @sarahkennedydaley

To buy Obsidian:

Obsidian

Categories
Dystopian Science Fiction Young Adult

Scythe (or themes for teens) by Neal Shusterman

I finally got the time and chance to read another book with the OpenlyBooked Book Club, and really enjoyed Scythe!

I liked it well enough as an adult and I also think it’s a fantastic book for teen readers.  There are lots of good themes, ideas, and what-ifs for discussion fodder and there’s a discussion and classroom guide in the back of my edition! Honestly I think I’d have gotten more out of this as a teen than I did, say, trying to understand Brave New World at the time so that’s something teachers are hopefully looking at.

In one sentence: one of the more unique and interesting YA books I’ve ever read

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Scythe
  • Series: Arc of a Scythe #1
  • Author: Neal Shusterman
  • Publisher & Release: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers – November  2016
  • Length: 448 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⚡ for anyone interested

Here’s the synopsis via Amazon:

I don’t read many utopian sci-fi books and was definitely happy with this one.  What the heck would the consequences be when humans are immortal, there’s no government anymore, everyone is provided for, and life is one big neverending run of mediocrity?

There are so many great themes and ideas for teens to consider in these books. What are the advantages and disadvantages of living in a world like this? Is the Thunderhead better than individual governments? How do you feel about turning back the clock?

Is cultivated random death better than the old method of natural selection? My favorite question is, without suffering, how does one’s life and the world at large change?

I tried hard to poke holes in the world building as well and it seemed extremely solid.  There were lots of sci-fi and utopian ideas but not enough technology and science to bog down the book.  It was more there in ideology. I was thinking quite a.bit about cultivated random death vs old-school random death, is one or the other really better? The whole idea of disease, accidents, crime, government being rendered obsolete was fascinating.

I think this is a unique plot with a thoughtful look at humanity.  The scythes hold a LOT of power, and therefore of course is the source of corruption as well.  Seeing how different scythes operate, the good and bad, new vs old, and how they essentially preserve the age of mortality was interesting to me.

The characters all had their unique aspects too.  It’s rare that a book is equally plot and character driven.  Rowan and Citra didn’t want to be scythes, therefore they are perfect candidates – but how do you ease people into taking life? How do they react to this? I liked their different strengths and weaknesses, and how each of their famous Scythe mentors had different approaches to the gleaning

My only negative thought was how the two teens ended up romantically inclined towards each other. I get that the author thinks people “expect” “romance” but the characters had zero, absolutely NO chemistry, and nothing except proximity.  This should have been a friendship, as proximity romances are stupid and the characters only had one brief physical encounter.  I honestly don’t think that teens want or expect romance in every book and it was so obviously forced into Scythe.  1/2 star docked for the author being silly

Overall: I thoroughly recommend this one and consider it a wonderfully appropriate teen read too.  Confirmed by the fact that it won a Printz honor, it definitely reads as a standalone but I’ll be reading book 2 asap.  This could easily be read and discussed in schools.  The language was clean, the worst anyone did was kiss, once, and while there was violence and death it was usually well compensated.

Likely one of my lifetime top 10 YA reads but I would have to think out a list to confirm

Categories
audiobooks Science Fiction Young Adult

Stars Above (Book Thoughts) by Marissa Meyer

I’m definitely glad that I started reading the short stories, novellas, and other extra content included in my favorite series.

I enjoyed this short story collection that wraps up The Lunar Chronicles. It gave each main character a true origin story, or something else that pertains to their personas. Lastly it let us know what the characters have been doing since the series ended and showed what their future looks like going forward. I think it was a really satisfying end to the reading experience.

The biggest surprise to me was that this is 400 pages long, because it felt so much shorter. The audiobook was also a lot shorter than what 400 pages would normally be, at only 9:27 not including the preview of Heartless

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Stars Above
  • Series: The Lunar Chronicles # 4.5
  • Author: Marissa Meyer
  • Publisher & Release: Feiwel & Friends, February 2016
  • Length: 400 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for fans of the series

Let me say two spoiler free lines about each story!

The Keeper – about Michelle Benoit and how she eventually ended up with a very charred charge.  Scarlet has a cameo

Glitches – from the end of the prior story: how Cinder was met by her new family, and incidentally how she discovered her mechanical prowess.  I like this little glimpse of their early family life

The Queen’s Army – how Wolf became Alpha Kessley.  This one showed me something about Scarlet that I missed, or misunderstood while reading 😳

Carswell’s Guide – super cute mechanical kitty and a bunch of scheming by our favorite captain

After Sunshine Passes By – this was probably my least favorite, about Cress and when Sybil Meara put her on the satellite

The Princess and the Guard – Winter’s decision to no longer use her Gift, and what that decline looked like.  It was a nice glimpse into her and Jacin’s childhood friendship

The Little Android – one very brave, very boy crazy little Android that definitely does not have a defective personality chip.  Loosely based on The Little Mermaid, it also showed the first time that Iko and Cinder met and I loved it

The Mechanic – super cute story from Kai’s point of view

Something Old, Something New (or Stars Above) 😁

All in all, I definitely think that if you read the series you need to read this too. The final story is absolutely everything needed to put a big beautiful bow on the series

And of course on audio, once again Rebecca Soler brings the entire cast to life. Bubbly hyper excitable Iko and floaty Winter were my favorite voices in the series.

Categories
Fiction General Fiction Literary Fiction

The Latecomer (ARC Review) by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Thank you so much to Celadon Books for the free early copy of The Latecomer! All opinions are my own

One thing that I definitely don’t read enough of is literary fiction and family drama, and I love that this author uses a bit of satire on certain hot topics in her books!

If you like generational stories, complicated family dynamics, coming of age, art, reconciliation (coming to Jesus moments?) and a few good jabs at both liberals and conservatives, this is definitely a good book for you!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Latecomer
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Jean Hanff Korelitz
  • Publisher & Release: Celadon Books, 5/31/22
  • Length: 448 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes if you like smart family dramas

Here’s the synopsis from Amazon:

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Plot, Jean Hanff Korelitz’s The Latecomer is a layered and immersive literary novel about three siblings, desperate to escape one another, and the upending of their family by the late arrival of a fourth.

The Latecomer follows the story of the wealthy, New York City-based Oppenheimer family, from the first meeting of parents Salo and Johanna, under tragic circumstances, to their triplets born during the early days of IVF. As children, the three siblings – Harrison, Lewyn, and Sally – feel no strong familial bond and cannot wait to go their separate ways, even as their father becomes more distanced and their mother more desperate. When the triplets leave for college, Johanna, faced with being truly alone, makes the decision to have a fourth child. What role will the “latecomer” play in this fractured family?

A complex novel that builds slowly and deliberately, The Latecomer touches on the topics of grief and guilt, generational trauma, privilege and race, traditions and religion, and family dynamics. It is a profound and witty family story from an accomplished author, known for the depth of her character studies, expertly woven storylines, and plot twists.

Ha yes so what else is there to say? The summary is excellent.  The father’s guilt and prior trauma set the stage for a wife who never lived her own life, and a set of triplets that absolutely abhor the entire situation.

I never quite understood the childhood strife between the siblings and eventually chocked it up to a plot device, although they certainly weren’t getting any good examples from the parents.

Each sibling has their own chapters, and later on, the unheard of fourth sibling kind of brings everyone together as the synopsis says.

I appreciate this author the most for her satires.  In The Plot, it was against trolls in publishing and the book world, and here she takes on liberal and conservative education.  Oh was I laughing at poor Harrison (the smartest sibling probably) trying to navigate the utterly terrible high school that the triplets went to.  No grades, feeling consortiums, no context to the victimization the kids are learning! A liberal nightmare.  Don’t worry, she gets the conservatives back too in spectacular fashion but that’s a spoiler 😂

It’s always nice to see Ithaca, Rochester, WNY in general in these books too.  A gorges pun will make me smile any day.

There is plenty of drama, deep characterization, growing up, and reconciliation too.  Everyone has to find their own way before they find each other and it was nice to see those stories.  There are lots of good coming of age elements as well as reconciling later on as adults.

The end – with Harrison and his new friend –  just had me cracking up.  She ended that on a fantastic note. 

The only thing I didn’t like in the ARC, and it may or may not be cleaned up in the final, was the narrative points of view.  Sometimes the triplets were talking and it was like second person “our” when speaking of the past, or an “I” in present tense, but the POV never seemed consistent even within one chapter.  That’s where I docked the star.

My advice: set aside a chunk of time for this one and enjoy it.  It’s complicated and a great read to take one’s time with. 

Drama  ✔ characters✔ satire ✔ complicated dynamics ✔ making a few strong social comments ✔

If anyone reads this please do let me know, I would love to chat about it!

 

 

 

 

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy

The Magicians (thoughts & response to random criticism) by Lev Grossman

After being 50/50 amused and concerned by all the hatred towards this book (oh GoodReads, LOL) I decided to point my review and thoughts towards responding to some of the popular criticism.

Like it’s truly vitriolic and I don’t get it

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Magicians
  • Series: The Magicians, #1
  • Author: Lev Grossman
  • Publisher & Release: Viking, August 2009
  • Length: 416 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for adult reader fans of antiheroes and magic

Here is the synopsis via goodreads:

A thrilling and original coming-of-age novel for adults about a young man practicing magic in the real world.

Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A senior in high school, he’s still secretly preoccupied with a series of fantasy novels he read as a child, set in a magical land called Fillory. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the craft of modern sorcery.

He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. Something is missing, though. Magic doesn’t bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he dreamed it would. After graduation he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real. But the land of Quentin’s fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he could have imagined. His childhood dream becomes a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart.

At once psychologically piercing and magnificently absorbing, The Magicians boldly moves into uncharted literary territory, imagining magic as practiced by real people, with their capricious desires and volatile emotions. Lev Grossman creates an utterly original world in which good and evil aren’t black and white, love and sex aren’t simple or innocent, and power comes at a terrible price.

My overall reaction to this book is positive. I think the three main points of contention are 1) unfair comparison – people read blurbs and then can’t reconcile when a book doesn’t deliver to expectation, 2) people seem to miss the fact that they aren’t supposed to like the characters where this is a more theme focused book, and 3) people saw the TV show, which is pretty vastly different, first, and think it’s better

So – the book asks two main questions.  What if Harry Potter and Narnia were real – what would it look like in the real world? What does the quest for happiness look like?

For me, the only real glitch was right at the start, and I’m going to take a moment for one of my infamous @OneReadingNurse medical rant/explanations: So the book takes place in America, in New York State. A body was found, very dead already, and an EMT came to the scene, performed a “lazy effort” resuscitation, and intubated the corpse. Ok 😂 first off in New York, EMTs can NOT intubate. Second: No one would have intubated an already clearly dead person anyway. Third, even if a qualified person was present they wouldn’t intubate in a “lazy effort” aka “slow code” – So I had a good laugh at the start but then thankfully Grossman stayed away from medical things and just tells a story

Ok down to business!

In response to Quentin being insufferable: yes! Some of the best characters are! The thing is that he isn’t supposed to be liked and I personally love complicated characters. Logically Quentin should be very happy with his life, he has everything he could have ever wanted. At the end of the “Graduation” chapter his own discontent finally dawns on him, although he hasn’t yet figured out that happiness is an internal factor. He reminds me of the characters like Martin Eden, Holden Caulfield, Scrooge. Quentin expects to have happiness presented to them on a silver platter once he reaches certain goals, places, people, things, yet he doesn’t quite realize that it’s an internal factor. That is actually a common human struggle in real life, among teens and adults alike, so I’m really mystified at the hate towards him.

Again, that sequence at the end of the graduation chapter where Quentin says that he got everything he’s ever wanted, and happiness is a fleeting thing, and It’s a terrible thing to know? That proves that he is self aware and not even slightly one dimensional.  There is a sequence of events in Fillory where Q sees the actual result of his wildest dreams, and there he truly learns the price of escapism.

For just one second, look at your life and see how perfect it is. Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life. Stop waiting. This is it: there’s nothing else. It’s here, and you’d better decide to enjoy it or you’re going to be miserable wherever you go, for the rest of your life, forever –Alice

Which brings me to my next point: the language. I graduated in 06 and was in college in 09, and this book really truly threw me back to those years. The kids I was familiar with in high school and college talked and acted pretty similarly to these characters, except with marginally less alcohol. We swore, we made fun of each other, we handled it, and we didn’t get hyperoffended by everything. I’m pretty sure hormonal teenage boys still notice boobs on women before much else. Has that changed since 2009? I REALLY  doubt it. People can be on their high horses all they want but this these characters actually feel real to me, very much unlike what I read in contemporary novels these days.

Are you kidding? That guy was a mystery wrapped in an enigma and crudely stapled to a ticking fucking time bomb. He was either going to hit somebody or start a blog.

Onwards! Let’s talk about the plot and magic

The magical test and the magic in general are also fairly interesting, and I like the parts that happen at the school quite a bit. It’s almost a relief to have the years summarized as they were, as I frankly don’t need to know every nuance of what happened as the characters develop relationships and memorize spells ad nauseum forever.

The part taking place in Fillory does seem like a fairly direct knockoff of Narnia, but …. Now bear with me …. Authors rip off published works all the time, in “retellings”, so really how is this any different? Heck someone just ripped off Little Women and it was so similar the author didn’t even bother changing the character names.

That said – how do you really think these people would feel being dropped into Fillory as they were? I freaking loved Josh, thinking the dryad was hot, and also the scene with the giant molten man where everything went to hell and Josh just commented on his balls 😂

There were darker themes too! The Fillory undertones of betrayal, death of the Old Gods, becoming a monster, set ups and more betrayals, and even the clocks? Action and consequence? This isn’t light subject matter! What about Elliot finally admitting that Fillory saved his life?

Now he had answers, but they weren’t doing what answers were supposed to do: they weren’t making things simpler or easier. They weren’t helping.

These characters all came from homes where they weren’t getting a ton of guidance and oversight, some of them were outright rejected. With how smart they all were, it isn’t hard to believe that they were turning to alcohol and drugs and other unsavory practices!

Plus the magic itself – heartbreaking at the end but cool.  Think of magic in a contemporary light, people just figuring it out as they go, sometimes accidentally doing something truly huge?  I think Grossman nailed it

I think overall it was interesting, engaging, and followed relatable aspects of life (such as searching for and misunderstanding happiness), teenage and college relationships, oddball groups of friends, even lost love is included and found family.

Oh gosh the story about Alice’s brother, and then Alice 😦

I will also add that Mark Bramhall does a heck of a audio narration. Honestly I think my favorite voice is that of Josh Hoberman, especially when he bounded off yelling *AND III F*CKED YOURRR MOTHERRRR* like I was howling laughing. The narration really is epic.

Long story short: definitely read this one

Categories
Fiction Suspense Thrillers

The Favor (ARC Review) by Nora Murphy

Thank you so much to Minotaur Books for the free digital advanced copy of The Favor by Nora Murphy! All opinions are my own

I have mixed but overwhelmingly positive feelings about this book. It is a gripping domestic thriller that I read in two sittings. The author is a lawyer who has worked with survivors of intimate partner violence and it’s obvious she knows what she is writing about. My only issue was with one of the points of view that just didn’t ring true.  I would definitely recommend The Favor to anyone who enjoys a fast paced stressful domestic thriller.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Favor
  • Series: N/a
  • Author: Nora Murphy
  • Publisher & Release: Minotaur Books, 05/31/22
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟✨ yes for fans of domestic thrillers

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

A gripping debut domestic suspense novel, The Favor explores with compassion and depth what can happen when women pushed to the limit take matters into their own hands.

Staying is dangerous. Leaving could be worse.

Leah and McKenna have never met, though they have parallel lives.

They don’t—ever—find themselves in the same train carriage or meet accidentally at the gym or the coffee shop. They don’t—ever—discuss their problems and find common ground. They don’t—ever—acknowledge to each other that although their lives have all the trappings of success, wealth and happiness, they are, in fact, trapped.

Because Leah understands that what’s inside a home can be more dangerous than what’s outside. Driving past McKenna’s house one night, she sees what she knows only too well herself from her own marriage: McKenna’s “perfect” husband is not what he seems. She decides to keep an eye out for McKenna, until one night, she intervenes.

Leah and McKenna have never met. But they will

This is a shorter and very fast paced read that will be perfect for summer reading.  Like I said I read it in two sittings and have no regrets.

Both of the women have a present tense point of view. I thoroughly enjoyed their narratives and was just downright scared for them the whole time in the current storyline. As the author writes in the afterword,  IPV occurs among white collar professionals and it is just terrible how these things can happen even to well educated women like Leah and McKenna. They are respectively a lawyer and doctor. There was a second timeline that started when Leah got married and worked towards present day events, showing how things devolved once the husband got control

Once a crime occured and the third voice is introduced, I unfortunately thought the detective’s POV detracted from the book. The whole side storyline involving his partner showed that some people don’t escape the violence and may have helped to toggle his understanding of events. It generally felt distracting though. The detective felt like a very cookie cutter character and even just with some of the generic investigator lines that he said it was difficult to feel anything for him. I also think that due to the nature of the crime in the novel there would be no way that he could start to close the case so early. The social pressure would be unbelievable, heck maybe I’ve read too many procedurals but it seems like some special crime crew would get involved if he wanted to close the case. What happened definitely works for the book but it just didn’t feel real at all

The only other silly thing was that one of the women mentioned the importance of financial independence, well before the control and coercion started, but then didn’t hesitate to transfer all of her funds into a joint account when she got married. All of your funds – hello that’s not maintaining your independence! Good advice there for women to absolutely not do that and maintain a portion of their own finances. It was also shown that some banking related things can be subverted with forged signatures, but I thought banks required most of those forms to be signed in person?

Don’t mind me please I am just splitting hairs now. These things absolutely worked in the scope of the novel. The Favor is a thrilling, suspenseful, quick read and contains a list of resources for suspected abuse at the end as well as a thoughtful afterword which I think added a lot to the novel.  One good thing that the detective character accomplished was identifying signs that IPV may be happening to somebody, as in, what does it look like to people in their social circle?

Breakneck pace, suspense, danger, women you’ll care about, and I think the tough topics were handled well and without judgement.

Definitely do pick this one up if it sounds up your alley, these characters have a heck of a story. Out in May!

Categories
Fantasy

Obsidian (ARC Review) by Sarah J Daley

Thank you so much to Angry Robot for the free early digital copy of Obsidian by Sarah J Daley! All opinions are my own!

This is an adult (18+) fantasy novel set on a vaguely Italian feeling island; it is rich in world building and magic.  I read it fairly quickly and even though it can read as a standalone I definitely can’t wait for the next installment!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Obsidian
  • Series: yes, #1
  • Author: Sarah J Daley
  • Publisher & Release:  Angry Robot, 01/25/22
  • Length: 400 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 for fans of adult sword & sorcery fantasy

Here is the synopsis:

Shade Nox is the only witch in a land of wizards – a fiend, a rogue, a wanted criminal.

Defying those who think her an abomination, Shade wears her tattoos openly and carries obsidian blades at her hips. For years, she has protected the outcast clans who wander the blighted Wastes, but the land is growing more unstable and her blades are no longer enough.

To save her people, Shade vows to raise a Veil of protection – a feat not accomplished in over a hundred years. But the magical Veils are said to belong to the Brotherhood church; if she succeeds in raising one, it will expose their lies. They swear to see her obliterated first.

Treading a dangerous path where allies can be as deceitful as enemies, and where demons lurk in the shadows, Shade chases a vision which could lead to her people’s salvation… or her own destruction.

Let’s talk about the world building first!  I think it had a perfect amount.  Daley went pretty deep into the history of  Malavita.  She told us what we need to know about the war between the native peoples, the history of magic use, and how certain rituals were learned and eventually corrupted, and even how some of the lore and stories came around.

On a micro level she also did a great job describing the mood of various areas, the culture in different small groups, food and drink, weather and architecture.

I liked that small things were included like a character’s ambivalence toward cats because they were susceptible to the blighted magic.

What I wanted more of: the Brotherhood’s history and how the religion developed widely enough that the four faces, the hidden, and the wild are consistent across the island.

As part of the setting and atmosphere, I did feel like the tone for each area was set with lush descriptions, temperature, sights and smells, and these things were consistent.  My favorite area was the glass fields.

For all of that, the book maintains a fast pace with plenty of action too.

Character wise: The main character is Shade Nox, a witch who wields obsidian blades. She reminded me a lot of Mia Corvere because she takes crap from no one and is terrified of horses. Apparently it is not normal in this world for women to be magic users or have the tattoos so Shade was an anomaly, ostracized, and wanted for various crimes.  She was bad ass and super powerful but also vulnerable, and had a tendency to fall in love with and/or seduce like … everyone she is in intimate proximity with.

This created a weird dynamic at the end of the book and all felt very unnecessary, but it’s adult fantasy and properly advertised as such, so characters can do what they want.   

The other main character is Raiden, who was stuck somewhere between duty and having a good heart and I liked him a lot.  He definitely had some innate unnatural ability but it was never explored, just hinted at, so I definitely needed more of that and docked the star for it.

The other characters are numerous but each contributes something meaningful.  Many have interesting stories, abilities, and snark for days.

The magic system: there’s an interesting back story for the magic.  Veils are used to protect cities from the wild and corrupted magic of the wastes, and obviously there are corrupt people too, almost like a magical mafia of priests and mages that tax and tithe the people into poverty

The blood wizards (and witch) use blades of different gemstones and materials to designate how powerful they are. Tattoo magic is also incorporated as they serve as healing wards after the mage has performed blood magic. I definitely think the magic was the book’s strongest element – it tended to be over the top at times but who doesn’t love a grandiose display of elemental magic?

I feel like I did a lot of summary so here are my thoughts: The magic, characters, history, and world building all tie together and make this an enjoyable read. These story elements combine for a consistent feel where I can understand the character’s motivations and root for them within the world. It moved along quickly.  I like the theme of women defying social boundaries (tattoos, clothing choices, etc), and love that ink is making it’s way into fantasy more now.

One totally random stylistic thing that I absolutely loved was that Daley used a pretty wide range of vocab words like ‘hummocky’ and ‘cerestory’, so I was able to learn something while reading!

Overall I definitely recommend this one for fans of adult fantasy with big magic and big personality!

Lastly: the author is doing a Sunday Brunch interview which WILL feature on 1/30!!!

Categories
Author Interviews & Guest Posts Fantasy Horror Paranormal

Sunday Brunch Author Interview Series: Featuring Beronika Keres!

Thank you for joining us on the Sunday Brunch Series this week!

Episode 18 features fantasy and horror author Beronika Keres! We originally ‘met’ when her debut novel Cracked Coffins was considered too thematically intense for a book tour! Luckily I was able to have a read anyway because dark vampire thrillers are everything and it was definitely a thriller!

The second novel Binding Blood released on December 7th. There are purchase links below if anyone has not checked these books out yet!

That said – I am glad that we finally got to chat about challenging content, favorite vampires, obviously brunch, and more!

Here it is!


🥞Welcome to the SBAIS! Tell everyone a little about yourself and your literary life?

🎤Hello! I’m Beronika, and I’ve been writing stories since I was old enough to read and write. So far, I’ve published Cracked Coffins and Binding Blood, the first two books in The Cracked Coffins Series. I have a bunch of stories in various stages of production and am so antsy to get them out.

When I’m not writing, I’m usually studying for university, consuming copious amounts of caffeine, and listening to my favorite gothic rock or punk songs on repeat.

🥞Could you tell everyone a bit about your publishing journey?

🎤My publishing journey has been long, so it’s a dream that I was able to release my first book in 2020. I think I was eight or nine when I first tried to get something published. I wrote a little story, found a major publishing house’s address on the copyright page of some book, and sent it in. It came back with a return to sender stamp—of course—but I didn’t let that deter me. I tried many times to write a full book and did so successfully at twelve. I had some success with short stories over the years, but I was really focused on being a published novelist. This was way back when many viewed indie publishing in a negative light, so I was convinced traditional publishing was the only way. Yet when that view shifted, and I realized the control indie publishing would grant me, I pursued that instead. Two books in and I’m happy with that decision.

🥞Congratulations on the second novel! What do you think was the biggest point of growth for you as an author between the two books?

🎤Thank you! My biggest point of growth is probably my writing. I worked with an awesome editor for Cracked Coffins who taught me so much!

🥞Seeing as we just got through the holiday season, what would Marianna’s favorite holiday be? What about Denendrius?

🎤Holidays would be a sore spot for Marianna, given her situation, but she’d yearn to experience a normal Christmas the most. I can see Denendrius periodically liking Valentine’s Day under certain conditions. He also would have celebrated Saturnalia when he was a human during his time, so I imagine he would shift to celebrating a non-religious version of Christmas, providing he has a reason (like Marianna) to care about celebrating.

🥞Cracked Coffins is a perfectly dark story so far! Did you start off knowing that it was going to be a dark fantasy? Did it get less or more dark as you started writing?

🎤I actually first wrote Cracked Coffins as a young teen during the last vampire craze. Denendrius as a character existed before I completely knew the plot for the novels, so I knew any story including him would be grim. The first apartment scene and the following forest scene were the first parts written and were based off dreams, and I’ve been told the latter is one of the darker scenes in the book. Some parts of the series are darker than other parts, though there are lighter areas. Yet overall, the dark themes are fairly consistent.

🥞I love that vampires are making a comeback! Do you have any favorite fictional vampires or vampire related literature?  

🎤I love that they’re making a comeback too! Yes, of course! I love Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice. I just absolutely adore Lestat, Louis, and Claudia for so many different reasons. I also really liked Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde. I think about that book from time to time, though the ending was bittersweet to me. 

🥞How do you feel about brunch? Any favorite brunch foods?

🎤I love brunch even though I don’t eat it very often. Bacon, waffles, and cinnamon rolls are my favorite!

🥞Marianna went through the ringer in Cracked Coffins, (drugs, death, domestic abuse, etc), is it emotionally difficult or otherwise challenging to put your characters through hell?

🎤It can be hard sometimes. Some themes and topics in Cracked Coffins are personal to me, so it can be interesting to wade through those feelings again to write. I always feel equipped to handle the topics, at least. Doing research can be difficult as well, especially stumbling upon real-life stories of people’s personal experiences (whether it be from those suffering from addiction or recovering, abuse survivors, or from those who were in the foster care system), or articles about abusive victims who weren’t able to escape.

But I also find it therapeutic to visit these sorts of situations with a fictionalized and supernatural approach. Including vampirism in a kidnapping/domestic violence story adds a whole new dynamic to explore. I thought the mortal/immortal power imbalance was a good way to portray some of the helplessness and hopelessness that can be felt in that sort of entrapment. Of course, adding violent creatures makes everything darker, but the supernatural also creates different avenues for hope that don’t exist in the real world.

🥞After two books, what’s the most valuable thing you have learned going forward into the next?

🎤How to adapt, be flexible, and try new techniques! Indie publishing makes this easy, which is why I love it so much.

🥞Here is the quick round of rapid-fire bookish questions! Do you have a favorite literary character of all time? Favorite book that your always recommend? Favorite author?

🎤It’s so hard to pick a favorite author since there’s so many that I love. John Saul, R.L. Stine, Stephen King, and Scott Westerfeld, to name a few.

One of my favorite literary characters is Janie Johnson from The Face on the Milk Carton (one of my favorite books since childhood) by Caroline B. Cooney. I always recommend that book and the subsequent ones.

A couple more of my favorite books that I’m always quick to recommend are Lighthouse Nights by Jake Vander Ark and Room by Emma Donoghue!

🥞Thank you so much for taking the time to interview! If there’s anything else you’d like to add, say, or feature, add it here!

🎤Thank you! It’s been a pleasure. I’m currently hard at work on the third book in the series and can’t wait to share more information about it!


Meet the author – from  https://www.beronikakeres.com/

Beronika Keres is a fantasy, thriller, and horror writer. After deciding in the second grade that she was destined to be an author, she has spent her life honing her craft and pursuing her dream. Fueled by coffee, she can often be found chasing plot bunnies and writing books.

When she isn’t writing, she can be found spending time with her family and enjoying the forests, mountains, and lakes of where she resides in British Columbia, Canada.

Cracked Coffins is her debut novel


Social Media and Book Links!

https://www.beronikakeres.com/

https://www.instagram.com/beronikakeres/

https://books2read.com/CrackedCoffins

https://books2read.com/Binding-Blood-2

Categories
Contemporary Fantasy Fiction Horror Literary Fiction Paranormal Young Adult

Wake the bones (ARC Review) by Eilizabeth Kilcoyne

Thank you so much to Wednesday Books for the free early read of Wake the Bones in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own.

Honestly I liked this one quite a bit but struggled with it’s age group appropriateness, so it was hard for me to rate.  I would push it on the 18-25 age group and keep it off the YA imprint.

With walking bones, rising evil, death, abuse, and a terribly disillusioned drowned ghost among other eldritch things, this is definitely one to have on board for spooky season. It’s much more lyrical than a typical horror novel though and encompasses magical realism and literary fiction too.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Wake the Bones
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Elizabeth Kilcoyne
  • Publisher & Release: Wednesday Books, July 12, 2022
  • Length: 320 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: *scratches head* I just don’t think it’s a YA, 16+ if I were really stretching it

Here’s the synopsis:

The sleepy little farm that Laurel Early grew up on has awakened. The woods are shifting, the soil is dead under her hands, and her bone pile just stood up and walked away.

After dropping out of college, all she wanted was to resume her life as a tobacco hand and taxidermist and try not to think about the boy she can’t help but love. Instead, a devil from her past has returned to court her, as he did her late mother years earlier. Now, Laurel must unravel her mother’s terrifying legacy and tap into her own innate magic before her future and the fate of everyone she loves is doomed.

Elizabeth Kilcoyne’s Wake the Bones is a dark, atmospheric debut about the complicated feelings that arise when the place you call home becomes hostile.

Ok here are my quick thoughts on the age thing: it’s marketed as YA (13-18) but I really truly strongly feel it should target an 18-20something age group. The characters are 18+, one was in college and dropped out, and all were struggling with loyalty to home, their  future, and generational bonds vs their own fate. Is their home down on the holler or where does fate lead them? Many of the conflicts and issues were not ones that 13-17 yr olds are going to face, although some will, plus the language includes at least one f*co per chapter, s*x scene at the penultimate moment AGAIN (please, YA authors, stop doing this – we assume a second couple shacked up that night too) … I just have a hard time with this on the YA imprint.

That said: let’s talk about this contemporary fantasy / horror / literary fiction

It takes place mostly on Kentucky farmland, where Laurel’s family tobacco farm has sat for generations.  The atmosphere it set from the start with a hunt for bones and trip to the graveyard, where we learn that Laurel has a penchant for death.  From there, things slowly start getting spookier and spookier.  It never gets to the splattering stage but there are dead animals, blood trails, dreams of the dead, her mother’s drowned ghost, lots of blood, someone is hanged, and the devil is downright creepy .. among other things.

The spooky parts are interspersed with a number of important themes to the New Adult (18- ?) age group, like generational chains.  Laurel’s family has been rooted on Kentucky for generations, and she tried leaving, failed, and came home to the farm and friends that needs her.  Another character is abused by his father, and wants to leave, but also struggles with loyalty to his friends and the area.  One doesn’t want to leave at all and is happy as is, and, the fourth has no idea what he wants.

So we see these scary parts mixed with chapters about love and mixed feelings.  Two male characters (Isaac and Garrett) have feelings for each other and that is a constant storyline, plus Laurel and Ricky feel fated towards each other but recognize fear and obligation as obstacles.

All this taking place in a muggy, hot summer, in the middle of a pretty severe haunting.  Each character, even a fifth that is brought in as a guide to Laurel, has different parental and generational issues that has shaped their experience growing up in this small town.

Can they all be friends like they were before, what needs to change, what will their futures hold? Will they even be alive to find out?

Coming home and self acceptance are huge themes.  I loved how the magic worked, as Laurel’s mother was tied to the land and so is she.  Land based magic is my favorite but I’ve never seen it in a contemporary fantasy before so that was interesting

I wish I could share quotes … I normally am not a fan of purple prose but Kilcoyne manages to write about death, life, and survival in such a way that I had SO many quote tabs on the pages.

OH, yeah, survival is a HUGE theme too.  Everyone has to survive their upbringing, life situation, and all the self destruction of those around them while taking hold of their own futures.

The real question is … Does everyone survive? Heh heh I actually did like what the author did at the end, but no spoilers

For me, 🌟🌟🌟🌟, but I’m 33 and would hold this one til my kid was at least 17.  I will not rate it for YA